Sage expert predicts local 'lockdowns' in what he says will be rough winter

By Neil Shaw

A Sage expert has warned we face a 'rough winter' with Covid and other seasonal illnesses - such as flu - and predicts we will see local 'lockdowns' with restrictions put in place on a regional level.

Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Breakfast “it’s not just going to be coronavirus that’s causing us trouble” this winter.

“The other seasonal viruses are going to come back,” he said.

“Hand hygiene and social distancing reduced influenza, it got rid of influenza, and many of the other viruses.

“Now that we’re opening up society, we’ve got to have to live with not just Covid but the flu will come back, RSV bronchiolitis will come back, so I think we’re going to have a bit of a rough winter.”

He said a booster campaign will “make a difference for a few people that are frail and elderly and have high risks, where their immunity might just need a bit of boosting and it’s to try and give them an extra leg up to protect them.”

Asked what Christmas might look like compared with last year, he said: “I really don’t know… but I can predict that the NHS is going to have a really tough time and it wouldn’t surprise me if local directors of public health may be suggesting use of face masks in shops and on public transport.

“That’s the kind of thing that I would expect – some degree of regional common-sense approach; if you see a high amount of virus in Liverpool or Manchester or Birmingham, then it wouldn’t surprise me if there was local leadership in that area.”

Speaking to Sky News, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Lockdowns would be an absolutely last resort.

“We’re about to embark on a massive booster campaign and of course a flu vaccination programme – I am concerned about flu, we haven’t had much flu circulating anywhere in the world, and in a bad year we could lose up to 25,000 people to flu.”

Mr Zahawi said he hopes the booster programme will be the “final piece of the jigsaw” in reducing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the vaccines minister said: “The JCVI recommended in the interim advice that we look at boosting the most vulnerable to Covid and of course flu as well.

“Where possible we will try and co-administer, with one caveat – with flu, GPs and pharmacies, which are the backbone of the vaccination programme, can rapidly vaccinate lots of people.

“If we are using the mNRA vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, there is a 15-minute observation period for the Covid boost.

“But, wherever possible, we will try and co-administer.

“This is probably the last piece of the jigsaw to allow us to transition this virus from pandemic to endemic and I hope by next year we will be in a position to deal with this virus with an annual inoculation programme as we do flu.”

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