One of the UK’s leading experts in the study of infectious diseases has predicted that the devastating impact of the pandemic will begin to subside “in a couple of months" — but warned we may require tougher lockdown measures to achieve this.
Professor Tom Solomon, director of the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health and one of a group of scientists currently advising the government over its approach to Covid 19, also said he was confident progress was being made over the mass supply of testing kits that would show whether someone had already had the virus.
Asked if he could offer any optimism in a week in which fatality and infection rates rose dramatically across the UK, Prof Solomon told the JC: “The first thing to say is that it will not last forever. It’s going to be over in a couple of months.
"In a couple of months, we’ll see things coming down. And then probably the lockdown measures will be eased a little bit."
But explaining how this was likely to be achieved, the Director of the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections warned that the government could introduce further tough measure to ensure that social distancing was observed fully.
“I should warn you that the lockdown measures may strengthen before they ease," said Professor Solomon.
“We’re still only on a soft lockdown. We could do more. And depending on what we see the curve doing over the next couple of weeks, we may have to actually say we are going to go for a hard lockdown."
Asked what that would mean, he pointed to countries such as Italy.
“We’re still letting people out of the house — we’re saying, go for exercise once a day.
"We’re saying, go shopping once a week, whereas we could say all shopping is going to be by home delivery. We’re saying to people work from home, but if you can’t, you can go to work.
“But the next step will be to say no, you cannot go to work unless you are doing an essential function.”
Professor Solomon refused to be drawn on criticism that the British government had also been too slow to introduce testing of the population, in line with countries such as Germany, for the virus.
“I would say the UK response was very good to begin with — it was like a textbook response to containing an outbreak,’’ he said.
“But this virus is one that spread more easily than anyone realised to begin with and therefore this was never going to be about containing it — containing means just stopping the spread. So it’s about minimising that and spreading out the curve.
“Okay. I think it is challenging for us now we don’t have the testing ability that we would like to have, but we are wrapping up the testing."
Professor Solomon is currently involved in research for Public Health England into “care diagnostics so that people can be tested in their own homes.’’
He is part of unit of 50 senior scientists and 250 junior scientists working on testing projects.
“There’s various things happening on the testing front,’’ he said. “One thing is the swab. You can do that at home now and send it in. The problem in this country though is we don’t have capacity to do those tests.
“So we’re testing people in hospital as a priority. And the second thing is we’re testing healthcare workers.
“The other test is a test to see whether you’ve had the virus and cleared it. And that can be done on a blood test and you can do it on saliva.
“One of the things we are doing in Liverpool is testing the kits that people make for sale to see if they are reliable.
“It’s all coming, but nothing is going to happen overnight."
The professor was also keen to point out that the release of shockingly high fatality figures over recent weeks did not come as surprise.
He said: “We are at that stage where the curve takes off, and that means the number of cases is shooting up and the number of deaths is shooting up.”
He added that after the control measures came into force, the number of cases would still rise, but not at the same rate.
“We will see that two weeks after we started the lockdown,’’ he added. “And the deaths will follow two weeks after that.
“For the control measures to impact on deaths, that takes four weeks.’’