How long will the UK coronavirus lockdown last? –

On Monday evening, Boris Johnson took the unprecedented step of curtailing individual freedoms to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

On Monday evening, Boris Johnson took the unprecedented step of curtailing individual freedoms to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.
The Prime Minister said that measures would be in place for three weeks – until April 13 – and then reviewed. 
But given the expected trajectory of the disease, and the decisions taken by other countries who are ahead of Britain in terms of virus progression, it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted then.
For a start, compared to most countries, the UK had a porous and half-hearted beginning to its isolation measures, with seemingly few people choosing to stay inside. 
Less than 12 hours after the Prime Minister’s historic address to the nation, the London Underground was jammed with commuters (see video below), while builders were seen eating together in communal canteens, making a mockery of the Government’s rule that no more than two people can gather together in public.
Prof Susan Michie, Director of the University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change, warned that some people would simply not be able to carry out the measures, even if they wanted to.
“Five million self-employed people are being left potentially destitute by the Government failing to offer financial support as they have done for directly employed workers,” she said. 
A building site in Larbert, Falkirk, remained open on Tuesday, March 24, despite Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, calling for all construction sites to close, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson putting the UK on lockdown
Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA
“Since [statutory sick pay of] £94 is not enough to pay rent, bills, food for a family etc, they will be forced to carry on as usual.”
The British Transport Police is now on hand to make sure only critical workers are using the London Underground. 
But such an inauspicious start to the lockdown suggests the virus will spread further than it would have, had stricter measures been implemented earlier, as they have in other countries. And it means that the measures we do have are likely to be in place for longer to “flatten the curve” in a way that would prevent a second dangerous peak.
Meanwhile, China has announced it will finally be ending lockdown in Wuhan on April 8, a huge milestone for the country and a signal that the crisis – for them at least – is nearing its end. The city in Hubei province was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
Yet it took more than two months of extremely draconian restrictions, including travel bans and quarantine zones, to achieve the level of containment seen in Wuhan. Britain is nowhere near that level of lockdown.
And the Chinese restrictions were not lifted for more than 12 weeks after the first death, so if Britain follows a similar path, ours may need to be in place until the end of May/early June. Certainly, that is when the Government has said it expects cases to peak and then level out.
However, from papers released last week, we know the Government is at least considering restricting movement for the rest of the year.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), proposed that because of the length of the outbreak, parts of the country could be placed in six-month lockdowns at a time, before being allowed more freedom. 
Prof Rowland Kao, the Sir Timothy OShea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at the University of Edinburgh, said: “It must be hoped that such measures will only last a relatively short time.
“However, we must be prepared for this not to be the case, and for them to be in place for an extended period.”
The next three weeks until the Prime Minister’s review will be crucial, as the unfolding epidemic will now be seen in real time, rather than through modelling, allowing experts to make more accurate predictions of when it will peak, and finally die away. 
It is also possible that after three weeks it becomes apparent that the costs to shutting down society far outweigh the benefit of slowing the spread and the government may choose to lift restrictions even before the peak.

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Prof Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said: “We now enter a phase of careful monitoring. We are looking for indicators first that the epidemic is slowing down and then for numbers of new cases to start to fall. 
“After three weeks we will have to decide whether the restrictions need to be continued, can be relaxed, or can be relaxed temporarily with the expectation of imposing them again later. 
“We must also monitor the damage being that the lockdown is doing; damage to the economy, to education, to psychological well-being and to health and social care provision in the community. The impacts of this epidemic are too far reaching for policy decisions to be driven by epidemiology alone.”
There are also hints that countries in Europe may be on a slightly faster course than China, and may peak sooner, meaning restrictions could be lifted earlier. While cases in China peaked some 72 days after the first recorded infections, public health officials in both Germany and Italy believe that they are starting to see a plateauing now, which could mean a peak of around 57 and 53 days respectively.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister said that we are two weeks behind Italy so Britain may end up peaking by the beginning of April. China left lockdown restrictions in place for nearly a month after the peak, so it is possible restrictions could be lifted early in May.
Prof Sheila Bird said that more cases in coming days and weeks would make it easier for the Government to predict how the epidemic is responding to lockdown measures which will inform how long they remain in place. 
She said: “Once an epidemic takes hold, as now in UK, the countrys own data properly reported and interpreted take precedence over modelling as the data tell us the actual actual toll which the epidemic is exacting
“A huge amount can be inferred about the immediately forthcoming weeks from these data directly, including whether further policy changes are needed to reinforce social-distancing, for example in particular age groups.”
Some experts are still concerned that the current restrictions do not go far enough while others say the government has been hit by an epidemic of action, and is now bringing in measures that have little rationale. 
Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, at Nottingham Trent University, wrote in The Telegraph: “It is another triumph of populism over science, of a capitulation to the demand to ‘do something’. 
“We are still seeing some notion that ‘the people’ are selfish and must be bullied and disciplined. 
“The people are not selfish: they have behaved in ways that are individually rational but have collectively irrational results.”
However Dr Andrea Collins, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), said: “I believe that they have not quite gone far enough. The ‘absolutely’ necessary to go to work is still being used by some when it is not required – I think we need permits across controlled areas to go to a workplace.”
Recent modelling from the universities of Exeter, Bristol and Warwick suggested that without any measures at all, the epidemic would have peaked around 133 days after first person-to-person transmission in Britain, which happened around February 28. 
So the lockdown has the potential of curtailing the spread by around seven weeks. A welcome relief for people who could have been facing lockdown for most of the summer.

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