England's much criticised roadmap out of lockdown actually helped save thousands of lives, a study led by 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson (pictured) has claimed

A study by Neil Ferguson (pictured) found that England’s widely criticised roadmap out from lockdown actually saved thousands of people’s lives.

Neil Ferguson’s study has shown that the release of all Covid restrictions on Freedom Day may have helped save hundreds lives, despite outcry.  

Imperial College London researchers praised the roadmap more generally, saying that it was ‘largely successful at limiting infection levels’.  

They claimed that No10 was able to time the easing restrictions well because the dates for each step of the roadmap allowed vaccines into the hands of those most at-risk.  

The study found that it was prudent to delay Freedom Day by nearly a month, from its original June 26 date due to the emergence of the Delta variant. 

They found that this decision alone prevented at most 2,000 hospital admissions per night. This saved many lives.

Experts have previously criticized No10 as ‘unscientific’ ‘, and argued Boris Johnson lifted the restrictions too early on Jul 19.

Professor Christ Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, stated that the removal of summer curbs would help to reduce the sting of a winter wave and prevent infections. 

Top graph shows: The actual R rate (black line) versus the predicted R rate (yellow line) without vaccination through each step of the roadmap out of lockdown. Bottom graph shows: Levels of immunity from natural infection (yellow), infection after natural infection and vaccination (light green) and vaccination (darker green)

Top graph shows: Actual R rate (black line), versus predicted R rate, without vaccination through each step in the roadmap out of lockdown. Bottom graph shows: Immunity levels against natural infection (yellow), infection following natural infection and vaccinations (light green), and vaccinations (darker green).

SAGE behavioural science subcommittee member Professor Stephen Reicher, and Independent SAGE members Professors Christina Pagel & Martin McKee condemned the July return to normality as ‘dangerous’ and ‘unethical’.

Stephen Duckett (ex-secretary of the Australian health department) warned that opening up to the world was foolish.

But the new research suggests the Prime Minister’s course was the right plan of action — even with the unanticipated problems posed by Delta.

England was the first country in the West to lift almost all restrictions on July 19. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales never followed suit — with face masks a legal requirement in some settings in both countries.

Whitehall sources claim that there is a less than 20% chance No10 will activate Plan B. However, the Whitehall sources state that cases in the ‘right direction. 

The chance of ministers activating their winter Covid ‘Plan B’ is less than 20 per cent, Government sources claimed today — but face masks might make a partial comeback in schools.

Despite warning last week that daily cases may rise to 100,000 this winter, Downing Street is thought to have taken confidence from the fall in national infections in recent days and optimistic forecasts by SAGE.

The Government has been advised by scientists that the epidemic could recede naturally over the next month, without any curbs, due to a combination vaccine rollouts and natural immunity growing in children.

Whitehall sources told the Financial Times today that things were moving in the right direction. They also stated that there was a less than 20% chance of us activating Plan B. 

Another senior Government official warned against complacency, stating that it is too early to’read a lot into data’. They acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest that Plan B should be activated.

UK Covid cases have fallen for four days in a row following nearly three weeks of consistent growth, with 43,941 new infections recorded today. Children who are still unvaccinated were the main drivers of the outbreak.

However, there were reports today that ministers will give regional public health officials the power to order secondary schools to bring back face masks in communal areas such as assemblies and corridors after half-term next month to curb the outbreak in youngsters. 

It is not clear if children will need to wear face covers again in the classroom. Campaign groups claim that this policy hinders their learning and causes them physical harm. 

Although local councils already have the power in some areas to restore Covid curbs, the change could extend the power to entire regions of England. The Department of Health refused to comment.

Many within SAGE are still pushing for the suite of measures in Plan B — compulsory face masks, working from home and vaccine passports — to be enforced nationally to give added protection and bring cases down quicker.

Johnson and his top scientists affirmed that it was essential to bring life back to normal, but also to allow the epidemic to peak before winter.

Professor Ferguson was responsible for the prediction that Covid would kill 500,000 people at the outbreak. The Government then imposed the first lockdown. Data showed that the roadmap was effective in keeping the infection levels low.

He stated that he had analysed the timing of gradual relaxation of Covid restrictions to follow the roll-out vaccination was successful in limiting infection levels. However, there were additional challenges posed by the emergence of the Delta variant in mai this year. 

“While deaths and hospitalisations are still very low, the Delta infection rate is higher than we expected. 

“Rapid distribution of booster doses, and second doses in teenagers is likely the key to maintaining control of transmission over the next few months. 

To analyse how lifting restrictions would affect deaths, hospitalisations, or cases, the team simulated different scenarios at each step of the roadmap.

Research showed that all three measures fell even after schools were reopened as per step 1 of the roadmap on March 8.

In order to stop transmission from becoming uncontrollable, it was also possible for non-essential shops and public places to be opened and reopened on April 12.

Experts said that the success of the vaccine rollout meant that the R rate remained below one. 

Allowing six-member groups to meet indoors, and lifting all outdoor restrictions on Step 3 on May 17, was also found to be safe. The increase in social contacts was offset by an increased immunity.

R for Alpha was below one, but the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant caused R creep higher, which led the epidemic to re-emerge.

Researchers said that the increase in case numbers in July was ‘likely related to the Euro football tournament and not as a consequence of step 3 of this roadmap’. 

If Delta had not emerged, there would have been no third wave.

This would have meant that Delta would have had to take around 3,400 daily hospital admissions. It was found that this number was three times lower when it was delayed until July 19. 

And scientists at the time explained delaying Freedom Day any further would not not reduce the number of Covid deaths and could potentially lead to a worse peak this winter.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty acknowledged that while some restrictions will always be better than none in terms of containing Covid, at some point they have to be released for the sake of the economy and impact on wider health.

Experts suggested that opening up at a later date would just delay case numbers. This is because immunity is naturally lower in winter and infections are more likely. 

Dr Raphael Sonabend stated that: “At each stage in the Covid roadmap we modelled many scenarios to analyse how lifting restrictions might change the course of epidemic.”

“We found that lifting July restrictions, which was a month later than planned, reduced the risk of an autumn wave of infection, hospitalisations, and deaths. 

“If Delta hadn’t emerged, the planned roadmap to release lockdown would have been enough to keep severe infections low and deaths manageable. 

“The latest data clearly shows the importance for a gradual increase of social mixing back to prepandemic levels. We remain cautiously optimistic, and we will continue to use the models to monitor the epidemic.

The study predicts an increased number of cases in autumn, although it is not clear what the peak for hospitalisations or deaths might be in winter.

The study indicated that the levels of the vaccine will depend on how many boosters are distributed and how many teenagers receive the vaccine. 

Dr Marc Baguelin stated: “In our study, it was shown that, despite lifting restrictions and until the emergence Delta in June, Delta’s R number had remained below or close to 1 due to the vaccination program. 

“With the sudden increase in cases of the Delta variant, mathematical modeling gave a strong signal to indicate that a month delay was necessary to catch up on vaccinations and get the roadmap right again. 

‘While there are still many infections, we are now in much better shape than we were one year ago. 

“Understanding the value of mathematical models in assisting policy makers is one of our lessons. This is possible when there is open and transparent collaboration.”