An eminent medical microbiologist specialising in infectious diseases says you only have to look at the data over the Christmas period to see what happens when lockdown is lifted too quickly and that there are still sticking points in trying to implement the easing of lockdown restrictions.
After governments finally published their roadmaps out of lockdown, Professor Ian Gould of Aberdeen University maintained that there is still a long way to go in the journey out of lockdown and that the vaccine’s Achilles heel – mutations – could have an opportunity to develop in specific post lockdown situations.
Mr Gould’s warning supports government’s precautionary approach to lifting restrictions.
In England restrictions won’t start to be lifted until 8th of March with a potential end to social distancing rules not scheduled till June 21st.
Yesterday (23rd Feb) in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon took an even more cautionary approach, giving no date to when social distancing conditions would end North of the border.
Sturgeon’s stance has provoked anger in the business community who feel, while the English Government provided clarity in their roadmap out of lockdown, Scotland’s roadmap only raised more questions.
Speaking to parliament on Tuesday the 23rd of February, Sturgeon stressed the priority was a return of schools, and that restrictions would be lifted in three week periods with a rough target of April the 26th before hospitality and non-essential retail could reopen under level 3 restrictions.
Life will return to normal
Professor Gould stated that “absolutely” life will return to normal pre-covid and said he suspects the enjoyment of going to a pub or a concert will surpass any feelings of anxiety over catching coronavirus post pandemic.
The microbiologist, who specialises in research on infectious diseases, says that to open the floodgates could lead to a dangerous precedent and whilst the vaccine rollout is a major plus in the fight against covid, the battle is not yet won.
Professor Gould said: “Everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief with the vaccine rollout and the end of winter coming so we are looking forward with glee, but you have to be cautious up to a point because there’s still a lot of covid out there. There’s a long way to go.”
Professor Gould highlighted how cases skyrocketed during the lifting of restrictions in the run up to Christmas as a case example of what happens if lockdown is lifted too quickly.
In the eleventh hour governments reversed their decision on allowing families to come together over the Christmas period, strongly advising people to stay at home.
Professor Gould emphasized that one of the keys to defeating covid will be to vaccinate everyone not just in the UK but around the world so that “breeding grounds” for mutations such as in Africa where the African variant was first discovered can be eradicated.
Professor Gould said: “One of the major weaknesses in the vaccine program is we don’t know how well it covers mutations. We don’t understand the mutations a great deal yet.
National Clinical Director Jason Leitch recently supported this viewpoint stating during the Scottish Government’s unveiling of their roadmap out of lockdown that doctors and scientists still do not know what the new variant will do.
Professor Gould added: “Fortunately the variants don’t seem to be coming nearly as fast as they do with flu. With flu you need a vaccine update every year. With coronavirus it’ll maybe be every two three years for an update.”
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The amazing work developing a vaccine
“For 99 per cent of the population the vaccine is definitely the way forward. You’re not just doing it for yourself you’re doing it for friends, family and society at large.”
Being from a scientific background Professor Gould really does appreciate how incredible it was to develop a vaccine to covid-19 in such a short timescale.
The professor, whose work is based at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, said that whilst the government’s initial understanding of the severity of the situation back in March 2020 was a disaster – Professor Gould highlighted the Cheltenham races and Liverpool’s Champions League tie versus Athletico Madrid as super spreader events you “couldn’t have designed better” – he did say the vaccine rollout was a major win for the Government.
Professor Gould said: “I think the biggest reason for the rapid progress is that bureaucracy has been reduced. It’s unbelievable what they have done. This is completely new technology in the vaccine field, certainly in infectious diseases.
“We criticise the government in the early phases but they’ve had one or two major wins including the vaccine program. With its progress, I think we should be able to keep one step ahead of the game.”
To those who are skeptical of the jag Professor Gould acknowledged that a small proportion may have genuine medical concerns at receiving the vaccine, but for the majority it’s a civic duty to take it.
“For 99 per cent of the population it is definitely the way forward not only for their own personal safety point of view but from a public health, communal spirit point of view to get herd immunity.
“You’re not just doing it for yourself you’re doing it for friends, family and society at large.”
Sturgeon’s caution frustrates as she announces the beginning of the end
Nicola Sturgeon announced a cautious return to the lifting of lockdown restrictions stating data not dates will drive the Scottish Government’s decisions into when to reopen sectors of the economy.
The First Minister said that provided targets are met restrictions will be lifted in three week phases, which started from March 22nd.
Whilst the First Minster gave a cautionary tale she remains optimistic that the end of lockdown is in sight, and that a better life ahead awaits all.
Announcing the roadmap out of lockdown, the First Minister told the Scottish Parliament: “The current situation is extremely positive and promising.”
However many across the business community in Aberdeen and the Shire disagree saying the plan was too vague.
Whilst England set a definite date for lockdown to end – June 21st – the First Minister did not say when Scotland will come out of the tiered restriction system.
Director of Siberia Bar & Hotel Stuart McPhee said the announcement did nothing to help the hospitality sector.
Mr McPhee told the Aberdeen P&J: “It was nothing. I’m frustrated and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t there anymore.”