Government Scientists Say U.K. Must Be Ready to Reimpose Restrictions as COVID Cases Rise

The British government's scientific advisers have recommended the government to have COVID-19 restrictions ready for rapid enforcement if cases continue to rise.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said in a statement last week that reintroduction of restrictions and regulations should be ready for immediate rollout since, in the last week, Britain has reported an average of 47,000 new coronavirus cases daily, an 18 percent increase from the previous week.

"Policy work on the potential reintroduction of measures should be undertaken now so that it can be ready for rapid deployment," according to minutes of a meeting held last week.

COVID-19 related deaths also rose 16 percent from the previous week at an average of 135 a day.

Many scientists are asking the government to reintroduce regulations now such as indoor mask-wearing, social distancing and remote work environments, that were lifted three months ago.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the current COVID-19 case level was "not outside of the parameters of what was predicted," after visiting a vaccination center in London on Friday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at vaccine center
The British government’s scientific advisers advised the government to have COVID-19 restrictions ready for rapid enforcement if cases continue to rise. Above, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets 88-year-old Nitza Sarner at a COVID-19 vaccination centre at Little Venice Sports Centre, in London, on October 22. Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The group said that of all the measures the government is considering, the "re-introduction of working from home guidance is likely to have the greatest individual impact on transmission."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative government says it may reimpose some restrictions as part of a fall and winter "Plan B"—but not yet.

Britain is relying almost exclusively on vaccines to keep the virus at bay during the fall and winter months, when respiratory viruses circulate most widely. Almost 80 percent of people 12 and over in the U.K. have received two vaccine doses and millions are being offered a booster shot, including everyone over 50.

Scientific modelers in the advisory group said a big spike in hospitalizations like the one seen last winter was increasingly unlikely, and that booster vaccines could keep the spread of the virus "at levels similar to or lower than currently observed." But they said there could still be thousands more coronavirus deaths in the coming months.

Johnson urged people to take "commonsensical" precautions such as wearing a mask, and to get a booster shot as soon as they were eligible—six months after the second dose.

Though some have suggested a new lockdown may be needed if cases continue to rise, Johnson dismissed the idea.

"At the moment that we see absolutely nothing to indicate that that's on the cards at all," he said.