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Councils should close ROADS to make more exercise room, professor says

Councils should close the ROADS to give pedestrians and cyclists more room for exercise in fight against Covid, public health professor says

  • Professor Gabriel Scally said Britons should spend time outdoors over Christmas
  • It comes as debate over allowing families to mix over the holiday period rages on
  • UCL’s Andrew Hayward warned it poses ‘substantial risks’ particularly for elderly
  • But Ben Wallace said that he did not want to be the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’

Councils should close roads to give pedestrians and cyclists more room for exercise in the fight against the coronavirus, a Sage expert has said.

Professor of Public Health at Bristol University Gabriel Scally advised Britons to spend as much time outdoors as they can over Christmas.

It comes as the debate over whether to allow families and friends to mix over the festive period rages on.

Professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London Andrew Hayward warned it poses ‘substantial risks’  particularly for older people.

Meanwhile Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he did not want to be the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’, but added the Government was also aiming to ‘protect lives’.

Prof Scally told Good Morning Britain: ‘We should try to spend [Christmas] as much outdoors as we can, weather permitting, walking, cycling.

‘The councils should be closing streets and roads so people can get space and opening up new green space for them to be outside.

‘We should be ventilating our homes, we should be wearing masks, what happened to the 2m distancing rule, all of these things will help gatherings we have and are permitted to have take place safely.’

Prof Hayward, who is a member of Sage, said the UK was ‘on the cusp’ of vaccinating the elderly and it would be ‘tragic’ to throw away the gains made in the crisis

Prof Hayward, who is a member of Sage, said the UK was ‘on the cusp’ of vaccinating the elderly and it would be ‘tragic’ to throw away the gains made in the crisis.

He also attacked the Government for ‘inconsistent’ messages over what to do, saying it was clear that if people wanted to avoid Covid-19 they should not mix indoors.

He told the Today programme: ‘Mixing at Christmas does pose substantial risks, particularly in terms of bringing together generations with high incidence of infection with the older generations who currently have much lower levels of infection and are at most risk of dying if they catch Covid.

‘My personal view is we’re putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas.

‘We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this.’

Asked if people should worry more about the health and welfare of their parents and grandparents than gathering together for a movie over Christmas, he said: ‘Exactly’.

He continued: ‘We’re on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we’ve made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays.’

The benefits of England’s second lockdown may have been nullified due to Number 10’s decision to announce the intervention five days before enforcing it, a top expert has warned. 

Boris Johnson revealed the country was retreating back into a national shutdown on October 31 to ‘reset’ the epidemic and give hospitals extra breathing room heading into winter – but the measure did not come into effect until November 5.   

The UK Government was forced to announce the second lockdown on Halloween after news of the intervention was leaked to newspapers the night before. It is unclear when Mr Johnson had planned to break the news officially.  

But it led to a frenzy of Brits rushing to pubs and restaurants for a pre-lockdown blowout that has been blamed for a slight uptick in new Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, said the increase in social interactions had fuelled a mini-Covid resurgence after weeks of plateauing infections. He fears the entire month-long lockdown will be spent undoing the damage caused by the five-day delay. 

Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘Both case numbers in UK (which had levelled off pre-lockdown) and hospitalisations in England (which were starting to level off) have surged again. 

‘I can’t think of what else could have driven this surge than increased social mixing in the five days before lockdown two.

‘I doubt we will see declines as rapidly as during April/May, so it may well take the most/all of this lockdown to reverse the impact of this pre-lockdown surge on cases and hospitalisations.’ 

Professor Hunter said whoever leaked the lockdown from inside Number 10 ‘will have contributed to a proportion of the unnecessary cases, hospitalisations and deaths’.

Prof Hayward said he believed ‘there is a cost’ to gathering families together, adding: ‘When policies are undulating between stay at home to save lives, eat out to help out, the tier system, second lockdown and proposals for an amnesty on social distancing, it’s a highly inconsistent message.

‘Whereas in fact the things that people need to do to stay safe and to keep their loved ones safe are relatively simple.

‘Avoid, as far as possible, indoor close contact with people outside of your household, avoid crowded places and protect the most vulnerable by not putting them at unnecessary risk.’

The expert said the reproduction number – the R value – of coronavirus still needed to get below 1 for the epidemic to shrink.

‘Approaching 1 is not good enough – that still means the infection is increasing,’ he said.

‘It needs to be clearly below 1 and it needs to get to low levels, rather than the high levels that we still have.’

Asked whether he would impose further restrictions throughout December such as stricter tiers than before lockdown, he said ‘it is a very difficult balance’.

He added: ‘We would need to be very mindful of the fact that this last period of the year is absolutely critical economically for many businesses so I think we do need to find a way of allowing them to function, but in a responsible way.’

The Government is working out how people can come together over the festive period, with No 10 saying families should be able to meet up after a ‘difficult year’.

Reports suggest households might be allowed to mix indoors for a five-day period from Christmas Eve, and ministers are considering plans to allow three or four households to form bubbles.

But a five-day easing could mean a potential 25-day period of tighter measures into January if the Government was to follow advice from scientists.

Speaking on Thursday, Defence Secretary Mr Wallace said a final decision will be made as close to the end of England’s national lockdown as possible.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The best time is to make those decisions about how we can get together for Christmas, how we can get through this festive period, is when we have seen the impact of this lockdown on the figures…

‘The best time for me to give you better advice, for the Government to make that decision, is as close to the 2nd of December as possible.

‘I know some people would wish to know earlier, but if we were to do it now, and the facts were changing on the ground, we’ll end up having to change it again.’

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he did not want to be the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas’, but added the Government was also aiming to ‘protect lives’

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain he did not want to be ‘the Grinch that stole Christmas’ but wanted to ‘protect lives’.

He said: ‘I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas – I’m not campaigning for that.

‘I would love all of us to be able to have a Christmas, but more than anything I want us to get through this Covid and try and get this country back to normal and I want to protect lives.’

On Wednesday evening, Sage member Professor John Edmunds said normal socialising activity around Christmas ‘all unfortunately carries a risk’ and people should probably prepare for a ‘slightly disappointing Christmas’.

He told ITV’s Peston: ‘I think that it would be prudent not to go wild at Christmas quite honestly, so I think that we will have to moderate and have a slightly disappointing Christmas, unfortunately.’

On Wednesday, Sage member Professor John Edmunds said normal socialising activity around Christmas ‘all unfortunately carries a risk’

Oxford University published phase 2 results from its clinical trial into a coronavirus vaccine, showing it produces a strong immune response in older age groups.

Responding to the news, Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: ‘There is still much work to be done, but this is a really encouraging set of findings from the @UniofOxford and @AstraZeneca vaccine.’

Professor Andrew Pollard, head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ with the results and the jab was ‘well tolerated’ in older people.

He added: ‘Our goal has been to try to develop a vaccine that could be distributed everywhere, and that’s not just a question for the UK where of course we’ve got the infrastructure that can be put in place to manage whatever the storage requirements are.

‘We’re really looking globally, we want to be able to get to every corner of the world if indeed the vaccine is shown to work.’

The six coronavirus vaccines Britain has pre-ordered

BIONTECH/PFIZER – 40MILLION

This is the first coronavirus vaccine so far that has been shown to work, having been found to be 90 per cent effective in a trial of more than 43,000 people.

There are some concerns about the two-dose jab, because it needs to be largely kept in ultra-cold storage at around minus 70C.

But the interim results suggest it is one of the most successful vaccines ever developed. It uses genetic code in a fat droplet to instruct the body to make the coronavirus spike protein, which causes the body’s immune system to produce antibodies.

Ugur Sahin and his wife Oezlem are the brains behind the vaccine and the German couple’s company BioNTech is developing it with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. The UK is promised ten million doses by the end of the year, and 30million next year. So far only hundreds of thousands have been produced.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY/ ASTRAZENECA – 100MILLION

Results on this vaccine are hoped for this week. Up to 100million doses have been promised to the UK, and 13,000 British volunteers have taken part in global trials.

The vaccine uses a deactivated chimpanzee cold virus, containing genetic code which triggers cells to produce the spike protein on the outside of the coronavirus, so the body can recognise it and fight it off.

JANSSEN – 30MILLION

An international trial of 30,000 people, including 6,000 in the UK, starts today, measuring the effectiveness of two vaccine doses. It works like the Oxford vaccine, but uses a common cold virus to deliver the genetic code which triggers cells to produce the spike protein of the coronavirus.

NOVAVAX VACCINE – 60MILLION

The vaccine from US biotech firm Novavax began being tested in a UK study in September and has so far recruited 10,000 people.

The vaccine contains a synthesised copy of the coronavirus spike protein and a ‘booster’ to enhance the immune response. There are 60million doses promised to the UK, which it is hoped will be available by mid-2021.

VALNEVA – 60MILLION

This is a traditional vaccine unlike the more innovative design from BioNtech. The immune system is safely exposed to an inactivated version of the coronavirus.

Up to 190million doses are promised to the UK, although it has not yet been tested on people. Up to 100million of those are set to be manufactured at the company’s facilities in Livingston, near Edinburgh. It is not expected to be available until late next year.

GSK/SANOFI – 60MILLION

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has reportedly already manufactured millions of doses of a ‘booster’ for three vaccines.

The firm is providing its adjuvant technology and has partnered with Sanofi, Medicago and Clover Pharmaceuticals. The first results on whether one of the three traditional protein-based vaccines work are expected in the first half of next year. 

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