Controlling coronavirus outbreaks will be ‘like playing whack-a-mole’

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, speaking by video link to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. PA Photo. Issue date: Tuesday June 2, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Parliament TV/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Professor Neil Ferguson referred to ‘clusters of cases’ breaking out in the autumn and winter (Picture: PA)

 

A former government adviser has compared trying to contain Covid-19 outbreaks through the autumn and winter to playing a game of whack-a-mole.

Professor Neil Ferguson believes the widescale lifting of many lockdown restrictions from July 4 could see ‘clusters of cases’ cropping up at venues such as food production plants, certain workplaces and schools.

The Imperial College London academic told the BBC Radio 4 programme Political Thinking With Nick Robinson: ‘We will be playing in some senses, and it’s not a nice metaphor, a game of whack-a-mole of trying to suppress those outbreaks.

‘I think as we go into the autumn and winter, there’s a bigger potential risk of more widespread community transmission.’

He said it will depend on ‘how sensible people are’ in both judging and trying to reduce their risks to Covid-19.

Prof Ferguson’s modelling of the infection was instrumental in the lockdown being introduced but he later quit the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) panel advising ministers after flouting the restrictions.

The academic suggested that a ‘balancing act’ needs to be struck about when an inquiry could be held, suggesting the focus must remain on managing the pandemic, exiting lockdown and setting up the track and trace system.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, speaking by video link to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday June 10, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Parliament TV/PA Wire
Professor Ferguson compared suppressing local outbreaks to playing a game of whack-a-mole (Picture: PA)

 

He told the programme: ‘Towards the end of this year would be about the sort of time I think would be appropriate to look back.

‘Some lessons can be learnt more quickly but any official inquiry is inevitably going to be highly disruptive so we need to wait a little bit longer.’

He also stated that an inquiry should not turn into a blaming and shaming exercise and it would be more useful to see how systems and structural issues can work better.

Prof Ferguson continued: ‘Even the failure to set up testing, I wouldn’t lay at any individual’s door, but there were clearly some structural failures which led us to being quite so slow.’

If there is an increased number of cases, people could expect to face ‘more targeted’ restrictions placed upon them rather than another lockdown, he suggested.

Speaking of the impact of the easing of restrictions, Prof Ferguson told the programme: ‘I would say we need to monitor their effects very closely and be prepared to row back a bit if we start seeing increases in case numbers.’

On the ‘error of judgment’ that led to his resignation as a Government adviser, he said: ‘It was the wrong thing to do. I should have followed the rules and I regret that.’

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