England could escape tougher lockdown as experts say current rules are working

Tougher lockdown measures may not be needed in England after all as current restrictions appear to be successfully slowing down the rate of infections, experts have said. 

The latest figures indicate that the number of new cases has peaked in many regions after a torrid post-Christmas period. 

Ten days after the whole country was put into a third lockdown with all but essential businesses shut, the country’s Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said the restrictions have proven effective against the new mutant strain of the disease. 

Speaking to Robert Peston on ITV, he said: ‘I think what we know now, which we didn’t know a few weeks ago, was would these sorts of restrictions be enough to bring this virus under control with the new variant? And the answer is yes, it looks like it is, and things are at least flattening off in some places, not everywhere.’

However Sir Patrick warned the death rate is still likely to be high for several weeks because of the record numbers of cases and hospital admissions in early January. 

The CSO didn’t rule out the need for tougher restrictions but said the impact of the current rules are now being seen in the numbers. 

He said: ’I think we follow these [rules], the evidence we have so far is this is beginning to work, holding it flat, beginning to potentially push it down. We need to monitor it and you know it may be that we need more on top of this at some point, I’m absolutely not ruling that out.

‘It may be that we need more on top of this, and I think those obviously are decisions that ministers would need to make. But I think at the moment the evidence is that this is having an effect.’   

The Government had been considering imposing tough new restrictions on top of those already in place such as stopping people meeting others for exercise and limiting which shops are able to offer click and collect services. 

Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland already announced a tightening of its lockdown yesterday wth new rules for takeaways and more people being told to work from home. 

But now Boris Johnson is understood to be holding off on any rule changes as the situation improves.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose early modelling of Covid-19 made him a key player in the UK’s first lockdown, said he thought the current wave of the epidemic may be coming under control in some regions.

However, he said restrictions of some sort could be needed for months until the coronavirus vaccines provide a high level of protection.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it’s much too early to say exactly when case numbers are going to start coming down, but in some NHS regions in England and in Wales there’s sign of plateauing.’

London in particular was seeing a drop in its number of positive coronavirus tests, alongside the South East, he said.

‘At the moment, it looks like in London in particular, and a couple of other regions – the South East and east of England – (that) hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it’s hard to tell they’re coming down. It has to be said this is not being seen everywhere.

‘Both case numbers and hospital admissions are going up in many other areas but, overall, at a national level we’re seeing the rate of growth slow.’

Earlier, the Home Secretary Priti Patel used her appearance on ITV’s This Morning to stress that ministers are focusing on increasing the enforcement of current restrictions, rather than bringing in new measures.

She said: ‘The plans are very much to enforce the rules. This isn’t about new rules coming in, we’re going to stick with enforcing the current measures. We are not thinking about bringing in new measures today or tomorrow.’

Downing Street said restrictions were being kept ‘under review’ when asked about Ms Patel’s comments and pointed towards the Prime Minister’s comments earlier this week that tougher measures will be introduced if necessary but that ‘early signs’ of progress are being seen.

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