UK's 'Prof Lockdown' Neil Ferguson says future lockdowns 'unlikely'

Scientist whose modelling led to Britain locking down last year also expects authorities to scrap social distancing

FILE PHOTO: Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson speaks at a news conference in London, Britain January 22, 2020, in this still image taken from video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS/File Photo
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The scientist who was dubbed 'Prof Lockdown' in the UK has said further lockdowns are unlikely to be needed.

Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the UK's belated first lockdown in March 2020, told The Times the UK would probably manage the disease with vaccinations rather than “crisis measures” such as lockdowns

“I wouldn’t rule it out altogether, but I think it’s unlikely we will need a new lockdown or even social-distancing measures of the type we’ve had so far,’’ said the leading epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London.

"The caveat to that is, of course, if the virus changes substantially.”

Prof Ferguson was a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which played a central role in shaping the government’s response to the crisis. It was a position from which he was forced to resign last year after it was revealed he flouted lockdown rules to see his lover.

The circumstances of his resignation have not prevented him from regularly airing opinions on the pandemic. In June this year, he predicted the Delta variant, originally detected in India, could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha strain which originated in the UK.

Data released on Friday showed the latest surge of cases in the UK has eased, with the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 dropping in most parts of the country.

Based on its weekly survey of Covid-19 levels, the Office for National Statistics said infection rates appeared to be dropping in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland, with the biggest declines reported among younger age groups.

Public health experts say the UK’s successful nationwide vaccination programme has been vital to slowing the spread of Covid-19 even in the face of the highly infectious Delta variant, which is now the dominant strain in the UK.

With about 74 per cent of adults now fully vaccinated, the government plans to expand the programme to teenagers.

Scientists warn auspicious Covid figures could be misleading

On Friday, 31,808 new infections were reported across the UK, down 42 per cent from the peak of the third wave in mid-July.

Saturday saw a further fall in cases with 28,612 new infections. However, daily deaths rose from 92 to 103, and both cases and deaths were higher than the figures from last Saturday when 26,144 cases and 71 deaths were reported.

Scientists have urged the public to remain vigilant and say the reported figures could be inaccurate owing to a drop in testing.

Over the past week, the UK has reported an average of 26,513 new cases a day.

It still has the second-worst pandemic death toll in Europe after Russia, with more than 130,000 fatalities recorded.

The decline in infection rates in the UK has surprised some scientists, because many predicted a sharp increase after the government lifted most lockdown restrictions in England on July 19.

“We’re at a stage where we’ve got a huge amount of immunity in the population, but the virus is more transmissible than it’s ever been, so we have this complicated trade-off,” Prof Ferguson said.

“If we increase contacts, then we may well reach another point where we start seeing increasing case numbers again.”

After successfully vaccinating most people over the age of 50, UK authorities are focusing on younger people.

One university is even offering cash prizes to students who have been fully inoculated.

All vaccinated students at the University of Sussex are being entered into a draw, with 10 winners receiving £5,000 ($6,937).

Prof Adam Tickell, vice chancellor of the university, denied claims that the move amounted to bribing students to become vaccinated.

“We’re not bribing them, we’re just giving them an incentive,’’ he said.

Updated: August 07, 2021, 7:55 PM