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Coronavirus pandemic definitely not all over, leading scientist warns

Professor John Edmunds said the UK needs to remain cautious.

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Professor John Edmunds said cases are now concentrated in ‘the harder to control parts’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

Professor John Edmunds said cases are now concentrated in ‘the harder to control parts’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

Professor John Edmunds said cases are now concentrated in ‘the harder to control parts’ (Ben Birchall/PA)

There is still an “awful long way to go” before the coronavirus pandemic is brought to an end in the UK, a leading scientist has warned.

Professor John Edmunds, who attends meetings of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was a risk the disease will “come back very fast” if the UK “relaxed its guard”.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson will this week update Cabinet members on the next steps to ease lockdown measures for a number of sectors, which are expected to take effect from June 15.

Asked what he would say to a member of the public who believed the pandemic was over, Prof Edmunds told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “It’s definitely not all over, unfortunately. There’s an awful long way to go.

If we relax, then this epidemic will come back very fastProfessor John Edmunds

“And if we relax, then this epidemic will come back very fast. So I think we do need to be really cautious.”

Prof Edmunds said the lockdown had worked and that the high levels of community transmission occurring over the past few months had “reduced enormously”.

However, he said cases are now concentrated in “the harder to control parts”, such as hospitals and care homes.

“Because of that, the reproduction number, which reflects the overall average number of second new cases each case generates, has crept up a bit,” Prof Edmunds said.

Asked about a recent report which estimated the R value – the number of people an infected person passes the virus on to – is 1.01 in the north-west and one in the south-west of England, Prof Edmunds said there were nine other statistical models that “aren’t quite so gloomy”.

He said: “It does look like the overall reproduction number is going up, and going up a little bit, only very, very marginally and perhaps a little bit in other settings.

“It is creeping close to one in some places. I think we can’t rule that out. But it might be even at around one in some regions.

“But I would stress that overall the assessment is it probably is still below one, probably everywhere, you know, on average.”

If R is one or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population. An R number of less than one indicates the virus is in decline.

The value used by the Government remained between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, though the figure has a two to three-week lag, meaning it does not account for the latest easing of the lockdown.

A separate report from Public Health England (PHE) and Cambridge University, which estimates what the value is currently, put the North West on 1.01 and the South West on 1.00.

PA