An excellent thread by Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and SAGE member, on what is needed right now to fight the second wave of coronavirus in the UK – political will and the courage to act before it is too late.

First published in October 2020.

Sir Jeremy Farrar
Director of the Wellcome Trust.

Thanks for invitation @BBCRadio4 World Tonight.

No easy choices in the UK now, every choice has very significant negative consequences. But delay before implementation is a decisions in itself & will make later interventions harder & need to be deeper & in place for longer.


Naively would be great if can avoid turning this into party political issue - this is a national crisis & will need a national solution. Every country that has managed well so far has done so on the basis of a national approach & consensus, trust, local ownership & broad agreement.

The latest government plans are an attempt to compromise between health and the economy but may end up damaging both.

We didn’t use the summer months to get an effective, supportive & trusted track-trace-isolate system in place as other countries managed to do. That would have helped get r right down. Instead we headed into autumn with r too high. We’re sadly seeing the consequences of this now.

New measures shift responsibility to local authorities, but as the CMO made crystal clear, at base they will have little to no effect on transmission. This is the worst of all worlds, the economic damage of more restrictions without the gain of a reduction in transmission.

We now need to get r down quickly to prevent things spiralling out of control. Because we don’t yet have T-T-I fully functional, the only way to do that now is with a return to the restrictions we had in April and May (though ideally & as the priority with schools open this time)

Best time get ahead inevitable winter increase would have been >3wks ago, but 2nd-best time is now. Pandemic can still be controlled, transmission can be reduced, hospitalisations, pressure on NHS & tragically people dying can be prevented. It can be done. It is never to late to act.

But if we wait, the government will inevitably have to change course again in 4-6 weeks, but the longer they leave it the harsher restrictions will have to get and the longer they will need to be imposed.

The interests of health & the economy are completely aligned, it is not false choice to make: the quicker we get through this the quicker we can get back to normal. Because of where we are now, getting through it quickly regrettably now means a return to more restrictions.

I know more restrictions will be a crushing prospect for millions of people. Govt has to put in place greater support for people & businesses bearing the brunt of this pandemic. Cost of this is trivial compared to economic, & social & health costs of the pandemic going on longer.

The only thing more economically damaging than supporting people through this crisis is not supporting people through this crisis.

I am optimistic we will soon get treatments & vaccines to end this crisis. Perhaps early 2021. But we have to get thru winter first. Now, regrettably we need greater restrictions to protect lives & the economy in the medium & long term. We need them now.

This can be done, epidemic can be turned around, lives can be saved, jobs & livelihoods protected.

But delaying critical decisions & by acting later will be much harder. Never act slower than the epidemic itself. And never think it is impossible to turn it around. It is possible.


Note: A snap poll by YouGov shows that majority of voters (54%) think the UK government should have followed the SAGE recommendation and introduced a three-week national lockdown back in September:

Snap poll shows 54% of voters think the UK government should have introduced a 3-week national lockdown in September. | YouGov

[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 13 October 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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