Lords urge Government to prepare now to try to avert winter COVID-19 spike
In a letter sent to the Prime Minister, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee strongly recommends that the Government undertake significant preparations over the next two months to reduce the likelihood of a winter COVID-19 resurgence.
Lord Patel, Committee Chair, has written to the Prime Minister highlighting evidence heard from top medical and scientific advisors that ‘it will be vital to suppress levels of infection of the virus to as low as possible before the winter'.
“More could be done to reduce levels of infection”
The Committee finds that not enough is being done to reduce infection levels before October, especially in England, and states that the Government should set a target for the levels of infection it aims to be at by October.
The letter also expresses concerns over stretching the NHS and the Test and Trace system beyond capacity if preparations and testing are not geared up now.
And yet the Committee heard that “Less than half the population in England are aware that they are eligible for a test.”
“In the winter months the number of people presenting with COVID-like symptoms will increase significantly”
The Committee finds that the Government may be underestimating testing requirements and that previous suggestions from the PM that 500,000 tests being available each day by the end of October is still not enough.
The letter says that more testing must be done in high-risk environments and high-exposure occupations, some of which have not yet been identified, and that the Government must explore multiplex testing strategies urgently which could distinguish the virus from other illnesses.
“As case numbers reduce, a more local response is absolutely critical”
Lord Patel also expresses concerns over imbalances between national and local management of the pandemic in England and recommends that the Government should more closely involve local public health authorities and other local health services.
“It is vital that the Government delivers a concerted public health campaign over the next two months”
The Committee finds that the Government's public messaging falls short. Lord Patel suggests the Prime Minister must quickly put in place a public health campaign focusing on behaviours that can help supress virus transmission and that the Government must be transparent about the rationale behind those steps.
The letter also highlights the need for “greater transparency in how scientific advice is used in making policy, and greater clarity on who is responsible for implementing policies.” It stresses that the Government should provide fuller explanations to the public about the rationale for the actions that they are being asked to take.
Lord Patel, Committee Chair, commented:
“The Committee has heard overwhelming evidence about the potential for a resurgence of the virus in the winter. I have therefore written to the Prime Minister with five specific recommendations for preparations that need to be made over the next two months. We urge the Government to act quickly in putting these recommendations into action.”