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Researchers welcome lockdown but see tough road ahead

Image: heardiniondon, via Shutterstock

Experts say more restrictions were inevitable and seek focus on mental health impacts

Members of the scientific community have come out strongly in support of the national lockdown for England announced on 4 January, as fears grow that the UK will exceed 100,000 Covid deaths in next few weeks.

But researchers have also called for urgent work into the broad impacts of the lockdown, and for the time to be used to gather more data and bring in additional measures to fight the spread of Covid-19.

“Given all that we’ve heard a lot recently about rapid testing in schools and universities, how will this lockdown time be used to ensure that we get test, trace and isolate working effectively?” said Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick.

“It is essential that we use the lockdown period to improve surveillance as well as expediting the roll out of the vaccine.”

Others have called for focus on the impact of school closures and isolation on mental health.

“The impact that the tight new restrictions going back into lockdown has on the mental health of the most vulnerable people is not yet known and cannot be without investment into research,” said Lea Milligan, head of the MQ mental health research charity.

“It is only through research that we can fully understand the current situation and make informed decisions about what to do about it.”

Long road ahead

Given the new virus variant has a significantly higher transmission rate, and with limited vaccine doses available, the UK’s exit from a tougher lockdown may be some way off. Some researchers say the government must carry part of the blame for this.

“The UK has been having more daily new Covid-19 cases than all of France, Spain, Italy and Germany combined,” said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester.

“It’s amazing that we seem to be making the same mistakes over and over again—with increasing loss of life. The vaccine is probably the only way out of this for the UK, as the various tiered social-distancing measures are clearly not working well enough here.”

Other researchers have questioned the current government vaccine rollout, which is aiming to offer jabs to all people in the top four priority groups within the next six weeks, which include some 12 to 14 million adults.

“Assuming all of these vaccines can be sourced, given the limitations in the…packaging process prior to delivery to the vaccination centres, there is still uncertainty as to how the logistics of these two million vaccines per week will be operated,” said David Strain, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant at the University of Exeter Medical School.

Jeremy Farrar, director of Wellcome Trust, cautioned that “vaccine rollout, even with the two vaccines now available in the UK, will take time to reach initial priority groups”.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe