November 30, 2020

Independent SAGE sets out guidelines for lockdown exit strategy

Independent SAGE as today set out its guidelines for an exit strategy from lockdown and called for urgent reform of the UK Government’s Test & Trace system.  They acknowledged that new cases will need to come down to 5,000 a day so that Test & Trace can cope but say the system will need “urgent reform” if it is to work and enable the UK to “avoid continual lockdowns.”

Today’s briefing was also attended by special guest, Caroline Lucas MP.

The group showed that  1,217,214 contacts have been reached by SERCO Test & Trace since May at an approximate cost of £10,000 per head so far, based on the government’s commitment to spend £12bn on Test & Trace run by the private sector.  The system has been widely criticised and has proved less effective and more expensive than Wales’ track and trace which is run by the public sector.

The panel of expert scientists, chaired by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, renewed their calls  for Test & Trace to be replaced with a system overseen by NHS and again called for increased support for individuals who need to self-isolate.

Professor Anthony Costello of University College London, said:

“Failure to reform and improve the performance of the Find, Test, Trace & Isolate system, will mean earlier and more frequent circuit breakers and lockdowns.”

The panel were able to share some positive news – the latest data shows the number of cases is stagnating and hospital admissions slowing, although hospitals in some regions, such as Liverpool, have reached higher occupancy than in first wave.

The group also set out new recommendations for universities.

In a statement earlier this week, Independent SAGE said:

“Universities’ strategic responses to COVID-19 have been constrained by the requirements of the marketized nature of the sector imposed by UK government. Thus, in-person teaching has been maintained in part because of potential negative financial consequences. The issue of online delivery has become divisive (e.g., the University and College Union has argued consistently for online programme delivery) which has detracted from the wider ramifications of maintaining in-person contact which we outline below.

There has been much discussion about ‘fee refunds’ for dissatisfied students in cases where institutions are not providing Competition and Markets Authority-protected obligations to in-person delivery promised in prospectuses. However, Office for Students guidance states that “During the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic, we do not intend to take regulatory action … where we consider that reasonable efforts have not been made to protect the interests of students” and “The approach we are taking during the pandemic does not reflect the approach we would normally take to compliance with our regulatory framework … about providers not delivering courses as advertised.”

We urge UUK and Vice-Chancellors to work collaboratively to take the UK government’s recommendation to “move to increased levels of online learning” as a mandate to accept consistent scientific advice to move teaching online, with lab- and practice-based components exempt. This will unlock all other strategies, including enabling student choice for their own well-being. The government must make financial provision for universities to make decisions that are consistent with its own advice.

In today’s briefing, the group called for:

  • an immediate move to online teaching
  • students to be allowed to return home to continue their studies at any point during term to avoid large-scale movement in December
  • enable testing (or two weeks’ self-isolation, where testing capacity not sufficient) for those returning home and, ideally, when they reach home

 

About Independent SAGE:

Independent SAGE is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Sir David King, the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, chairs the group and oversees its reports.