Caution needed on easing lockdown in UK, expert warns


Caution is needed in determining whether England’s coronavirus restrictions can be lifted next month or the situation could turn bad “very, very quickly”, a professor whose argument against herd immunity helped trigger England’s first lockdown has warned.

Sir Tim Gowers, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, told The Guardian the downside of being “a bit more cautious” was a lot smaller than the downside of getting it wrong.

Asked about the next step in lockdown easing in England, due on June 21, Prof Gowers said he did not believe the plans were necessarily at risk, but urged caution.

“Because Boris Johnson has made a big thing about all the steps being irreversible, I think he’s put himself in a position where once he takes a step, he’ll be extremely reluctant to reverse because that would be a big U-turn, an embarrassing climbdown,” he said.

“So I think if that’s the way you’re going to play things, then you should be very, very cautious about every step you take … And maybe everything [will] be OK, maybe the number of people who are vaccinated will be just enough … ‘R’ will broadly speaking stay below one even with Indian variants.

“But if it’s not OK, we know, because of mathematics, that things will get bad very, very quickly. Or at least, maybe it won’t look that quick to start with, but it’ll grow exponentially.

“So it’ll pick up speed and become a big problem.”

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

The Guardian said Prof Gowers sent the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings a five-page document warning of the need to “move urgently to extreme containment measures” in March last year.

Other experts on Friday argued restrictions should remain in place until more of the population had received both vaccine doses. Professor Christina Pagel, a member of Independent Safe from University College London, said reopening should be delayed a few more months.

The Prime Minister told reporters on Thursday he “didn’t see anything currently in the data” to divert from the June reopening target before adding: “But we may need to wait.”