The Party’s OVER: Social bubble could be limited to just 10 family and friends until 2021 as scientists warn weddings, birthdays and church are the worst coronavirus ‘super-spreader events’
- Senior epidemiologist Adam Kucharski warned Britain could face a second peak
- Groups shouldn’t be allowed to gather for parties until 2021, scientist found
- An infected person could spread the disease to up to ten others at indoor events
- Socialising outside of home, school and work should be limited to five people
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Published: 04:29 EDT, 3 May 2020 | Updated: 07:23 EDT, 3 May 2020
Social bubbles could be limited to fewer than ten people and super-spreader indoor events could be banned until well into 2021 to avoid a second peak of coronavirus infections, scientists revealed.
Senior epidemiologist Adam Kucharski has warned Britain could face ‘exponential growth’ in Covid-19 cases if groups of people start getting together to celebrate as lockdown measures are eased.
‘Look at where these super-spreading events occur, it’s often at family gatherings and meals and weddings and parties and all these things that socially we want to happen,’ Dr Kucharski told The Sunday Times.
His team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the usual infection rate sees one person spread the virus to an average of three others.
But when large groups meet in badly ventilated environments the infection rate soars and the virus spreads three times faster.
Dr Kucharski, author of bestselling book about epidemics The Rules of Contagion, said: ‘As soon as measures are lifted, we risk being back where we started, facing exponential growth.’
He added that this meant social distancing restrictions would have to stay in place until at least next year, but ultimately it would be a Government decision.
Senior epidemiologist Adam Kucharski has warned Britain could face ‘exponential growth’ in Covid-19 cases if groups of people start getting together. Pictured, people social distance as they gathered for a street party in Clapham on April 25
‘It seems likely that these kinds of close interactions between people will need limitations,’ he said.
The findings of the study, by The Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, are due to be discussed at a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting this week.
What action is taken after the studies is up to the Government so it is still unknown exactly how the UK will exit lockdown, but Dr Kucharski said social distancing will stay in place for some time to come.
Social groups outside of the home, school and work should be limited to five people, according to another study by the Division of Molecular and Clinical Medicine at the University of Dundee.
Dr Kucharski is author of bestselling book about epidemics The Rules of Contagion
Social contact, defined by the study as a conversation or physical touch, should be kept at no more than ten people each day, the authors said, to make contact tracing possible.
They told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘Lockdown can barely contain the disease’s spread.’
And Brits will have to ‘substantially’ reduce the level of social interaction they were having before the pandemic to ensure the number of cases doesn’t start to rise out of control.
‘Our data is more consistent with a need to adopting a “new normal” that can provide the optimal balance between allowing economic activity while ensuring very substantial reductions in prior social contacts – 90 per cent reductions according to our best estimates,’ they added.
In research published last week Dr Kucharski’s team found the transmission rate while exercising in a park was ‘very low’ and those under the age of 20 were 75 per cent likely to be asymptomatic.
Brits will have to ‘substantially’ reduce the level of social interaction they were having before the pandemic to ensure the number of cases doesn’t start to rise out of control. Pictured, a street party in Clapham on April 25
While symptoms are much more likely for over 70s, who have only a 24 per cent chance of being asymptomatic – where they have the virus and can pass it on to others but have no symptoms.
Yesterday the UK announced another 621 deaths, taking Britain’s official fatality toll to 28,131 – edging the country closer to becoming Europe’s worst-hit nation.
Last week Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested people in Scotland could soon be allowed to meet a small ‘bubble’ of friends and family outside of their households under plans to ease the lockdown gradually.
On April 24 Ms Sturgeon said other countries are beginning to look at expanding the definition of ‘households’ to allow small gatherings of people and that Scotland could do the same.
Last week Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested people in Scotland could soon be allowed to meet a small ‘bubble’ of friends and family outside of their households under plans to ease the lockdown gradually. Pictured, people clapping for carers in their street
The SNP leader said any such scheme would only work if people stuck to meeting the same group each time as she said she understood the ‘anguish’ of not being able to see loved ones.
She also suggested people who live alone could ‘match up with somebody else who is on their own or a couple of other people’.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not spoken of plans to introduce social bubbles, but does plan to reveal his ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to ease the coronavirus lockdown and put the UK economy back into gear next week.
He is expected to reveal his roadmap of proposals to very carefully and slowly lift the restriction in place since late March, but come down hard on any secondary hotspots that emerge.
It came as the Welsh government announced some of its stay-at-home measures are being toughened up but also followed Ms Sturgeon in publishing a roadmap for how to eventually get out of lockdown.
Northern Ireland has similarly signalled it could lift restrictions independently of the rest of the UK with Downing Street now under growing pressure to set out its own strategy for getting life back to normal amid fears England could be left in limbo.
Nicola Sturgeon today said the Scottish government is looking at plans to allow people to meet with a ‘bubble’ of friends or family
UK ministers, led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, continue to insist the focus must remain on stopping the spread of the virus but the actions of the devolved administrations mean Number 10 could ultimately be forced to change tack.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the aim of his government’s end-of-lockdown ‘framework’ will be to ‘find a way for people in Wales to live and work alongside coronavirus’ and to enable a ‘gradual return to something resembling normal life’.
But he also moved to tighten current guidance on staying at home to make sure people stick to it and do not linger outside after completing essential tasks like shopping or exercise.
The Welsh government advice is being tweaked with the requirement for people not to leave the place where they live now becoming a requirement ‘not to leave or remain away from that place’.
A further crackdown on people visiting second homes in the country is also being considered with the Welsh government asking the police if extra restrictions are needed.
Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that any proposal to let people see friends or family would have to be based on them seeing the same group each time. Pictured, a family at their home in north London
But some rules are being formally loosened with ‘click and collect’ services allowed to open as long as they apply two metre social distancing rules.
Meanwhile, rules were also relaxed for people with particular health conditions or disabilities so they can leave home for exercise more than once a day.
It was hoped this would help families with children with learning disabilities and autism in particular.
Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that any proposal to let people see friends or family would have to be based on them seeing the same group each time.
People took part in a coronavirus anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, anti-5G and pro-freedom protest near Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, in London yesterday
Last month she revealed her framework for relaxing lockdown measures in Scotland but warned some restrictions could stay in place until at least the end of the year.
The First Minister stressed no decisions have been made on such a ‘bubble’ arrangement and that she wants to have an open conversation with the public about the way forward.
Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I know from my own parents who are not seeing their grandkids just now, I understand the anguish of that.
‘We’re all missing seeing our loved ones so we all want to get beyond that as quickly as possible.
Games of Bingo were held by David Walsh (left) on a street in Liverpool, Britain, 25 April 2020, as people try to keep themselves entertained
‘Every country is going through these decisions, none of us are through this pandemic yet, but some countries are starting to look at slightly expanding what people would define as their household – encouraging people who live alone to maybe match up with somebody else who is on their own or a couple of other people to have almost kind of bubbles of people.’
She added: ‘And the key thing there is, if you’re seeing maybe one or two more people outside your household, it’s got to be the same people on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis so you’re still limiting the ability for the virus to transmit.
‘Now, none of these are fixed decisions yet, but these are all the kind of things we’re trying to work through.
People run past a social distancing sign at the entrance of Regent’s Park, as the lockdown continues due to the coronavirus outbreak, in London, Sunday, April 26, 2020
Social distancing is practised on a park bench as a man reads a book as a couple exchange a kiss, in London Fields park in east London on April 25, 2020
Members of the public follow social distancing guidelines and queue outside a Homebase store in Leicester yesterday
‘What we’re trying to do is to do is, how do we get a semblance of normality back into our lives because the lockdown – it is essential that people stick with it just now – but it’s having consequences of its own.’
In Belgium, experts are reportedly considering allowing private gatherings of 10 people on weekends – but it would have to be the same people each week.
The First Minister also said the Scottish government will increase talks with councils about children returning to school. The need to keep social distancing in place will put an upper limit on class sizes, she said.
She said: ‘So if it’s the case that we need to keep kids in school two metres apart from each other then that will put an upper limit on how many people can be in a classroom.
‘So do we have to take classes divide them into two, where half of the class is there one week, the other half the other week or one half in the morning and the afternoon?
Ministers could be preparing to lift restrictions on outdoor activities such as picnics as the first stage in relaxing the lockdown rules
‘These are the kind of things where we’re having to think through.’
Mr Drakeford today set out an initial blueprint for how to lead Wales out of the coronavirus lockdown.
He said the devolved administration’s approach would be guided by seven tests designed to assess when and how stay-at-home restrictions are lifted.
Mr Drakeford said: ‘Our approach to date has been one of lockdown. We have taken unprecedented steps to protect everyone, but particularly those most at risk from serious illness.
The Prime Minister (right), whose son Wilfred was revealed to the world by mum Carrie Symonds yesterday (left) is expected to reveal his roadmap of proposals to very carefully and slowly lift the restriction in place since late March
Boris Johnson plans to reveal his ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to ease the coronavirus lockdown and put the UK economy back into gear
‘This has helped the NHS prepare and cope with coronavirus and, even though we have sadly seen more than 640 people die, it has helped to save many more lives. But this strategy comes with its own costs to people’s wider health and wellbeing and long-term costs to our economy.
‘We are keeping these regulations under constant review. We know coronavirus will be with us for a long time yet but we want to see whether there are things we can do while we continue to tackle the virus and while the search for better treatments and a vaccine continue.’
Mr Drakeford’s seven questions include whether easing a restriction would have a negative effect on containing the virus, whether loosening a measure could be easily reversed and whether it has a positive economic benefit.
The Welsh approach will be underpinned by a ‘Wales-wide programme of surveillance, case identification, and contract tracing’.
He added: ‘We will need to have some sort of restrictions in place for some time yet to continue to control the spread of the virus and reduce community transmission. This framework will help us determine what is right for Wales.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today announced coronavirus lockdown rules are changing in Wales in order to stop people staying outside for too long
‘There is a long road ahead of us towards recovery to pre-pandemic levels, but if we continue to work together, I hope we will be able to make changes to the restrictions and see a gradual return to something resembling normal life.’
As well as setting out a path to the end of lockdown, Mr Drakeford said some measures needed to be strengthened now to stop the spread of the disease.
He said: ‘The restrictions are staying in place, which mean you must stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS.
How the lockdown to could start to be eased
- Construction and other outdoor workers cleared to return
- Non-food retailers allowed to reopen
- Offices re-opened but with strict distancing rules
- Schools reopening in June
- Ban on visiting beauty spots relaxed
- Increased public transport with strict distancing rules
- Return to strict lockdown in areas where cases surge again
- Pubs and other congregational settings remain closed for longer
- Harsher fines for rule breaking
‘Over the last few months, we have taken unprecedented steps to protect everyone, but particularly those most at risk from serious illness. This approach has helped the NHS prepare and cope with coronavirus and it has also helped to save many lives.
‘The changes we are introducing supplement the rules already in force but they respond to some challenges being faced in parts of the country and by families throughout Wales.
‘Our message has not changed – anyone can get coronavirus, anyone can spread it. So please, stay home, protect the NHS, and save lives.’
Current UK rules state you should only leave your home to get food, medicine, for exercise or to go to work.
But there have been signs in recent days that some Britons are beginning to tire of the lockdown with more cars on the UK’s roads and more people visiting parks.
The first easing of restrictions is not expected to come into force until June, and will be accompanied by the stricter enforcement of breaches of the remaining rules, with fines rising from the current £60 to more than £3,000 for repeat offenders.
It will include a massive PR blitz urging people who cannot work from home to go in where they can safely, and urging key workers to send their children back to school to free them up for vital tasks.
Public transport will also increase, but there will be strict social distancing measures at stations and attempts to stagger working hours to reduce the rush hour.
Senior citizens could also lose their free travel during peak times to lower surge numbers further, the Sunday Times reported.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that Britain will not return to ‘business as usual’ this month.
Ministers told guidance on visiting family must be clear if lockdown is eased
Clear guidance on whether people can safely visit family and friends needs to be ready as soon as any easing of coronavirus lockdown rules is announced, a public health expert has warned.
Indefinite shielding of vulnerable groups such as the over-70s would be ‘incredibly unpalatable and damaging to families’, Professor Linda Bauld said, as the public clamour for information on what the future might look like continues.
The professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh said international travel is likely to be ‘strongly discouraged’ until the autumn but said clear guidance is needed on whether safe travel within the UK will be possible.
She said: ‘Would people be able to drive to actually physically see their relatives, in the summer months, when the weather for not all but most of the UK should be reasonable and that contact can be outdoors? That’s the kind of discussion government needs to be having with the population so we can re-establish some of that contact.’
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I don’t think we should expect us to go from this situation that we have at the moment of social distancing back to where we were in February – that’s clearly not going to happen and I don’t think anyone imagines that for one moment.’
Ministers are concerned that the public have gone beyond the letter of the law introduced when the pandemic began to sweep the nation, according to the Sunday Times.
A senior Whitehall source told the paper: ‘What you are going to see this week is a restatement of what we thought would happen right at the beginning when we first issued the lockdown.
‘But it’s going to be repackaged as a slow opening up of the economy. Please will construction sites reopen, please will you go to work if you can without hurting people, please if you are a key worker will you send your children to school.
‘We’ve gone round the houses to get back to where we started.’
New polls today reveal how reluctant Britons are to return to normal while hundreds of people are still dying every day.
More than four in five Britons are against lockdown restrictions being eased for schools, pubs and restaurants this week, according to a poll by Opinium for the Observer.
Just 17 per cent thought the time was right to consider re-opening schools, with smaller proportions of people thinking conditions had been met to allow cinemas, sporting stadia and nightclubs to open their doors.
There was also opposition to the reopening of restaurants and pubs – with only 11 per cent agreeing Britain is at a place to reopen eateries and 9 per cent supporting a return to pubs.
Britons more strongly opposed a return to stadium events and nightclubs, with 7 per cent saying conditions have been met for both to resume, compared to 84 per cent who did not.
Ministers will aim to tread a fine line between kickstarting economic activity and keeping ‘R’, the reproduction rate of the virus, below 1.
The number of people who have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK as of 5pm on Friday rose to 28,131, up by 621.
The death toll has edged closer to that of Italy, which now stands at 28,710 and is the highest in Europe, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
School is not out for summer
As plans to ease lockdown are made it has been suggested primary schools could re-open on June 1, with students from Years 10 and 12 becoming the first in a wave of secondary pupils flocking to classes.
Mr Johnson is hoping to put teachers on three weeks’ notice to re-open primary schools in England to all pupils as soon as next month.
Whitehall sources have claimed the earliest possible return of primary schoolchildren is intended to help parents to return to work.
It will also prevent damage being done to ‘early years development’ about which Gavin Williamson has warned, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
As plans to ease lockdown are made it has been suggested primary schools could re-open on June 1, with students from Years 10 and 12 becoming the first in a wave of secondary pupils flocking to classes. Pictured, children leave school in Westminster last month
Meanwhile arts students could be the last to return to university after students of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science in the autumn.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: ‘Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.
‘Schools will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, until the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to reopen and the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus have been met.’
The move is being considered as data show that younger children are potentially less likely to transmit Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Public transport running – but with social distancing
Public transport could return to approaching normal levels of service but with measures in place to limit numbers.
Scenes of packed Tube trans during the lockdown shocked the nation and Mr Shapps this morning said that it was unlikely that would be allowed.
He indicated that the staggered start times enforced in offices could be used to help reduce peak demand on trains and buses.
‘The crushes would be completely at odds with social distancing,’ he told Sky.
Public transport could return to approaching normal levels of service but with measures in place to limit numbers. Pictured, staff stand inside Camberwell bus depot in London, during a minute’s silence to pay tribute to the NHS staff and key workers who have died
‘Of course i’m very concerned about people being able to wash their hands – it’s still far and away the most important advice….
Key worker testing programme runs out of tests on its first day
The government’s new online system for booking coronavirus tests closed just hours in an opening-day farce today as Ministers raced to meet their 100,000 daily target.
The website had launched this morning with two options, allowing key workers to book one of just 1,000 home testing kits or apply for a slot at a drive-through centre.
Some ten million key workers and their households are now eligible for the tests, but applications shut at 10am, with the website saying people could no longer register.
Earlier, people were told at 8.30am that today’s allocation of home kits – which only went live at 8am – had been issued, and they could only ask for drive-through tests.
The Department of Health and Social Care had expected home kits to run out by 10.30am, with Whitehall sources saying the rush today confirmed the high demand. Ministers are hoping to be able to provide 18,000 home test kits by the end of April.
Earlier, some people took to Twitter to complain that the process was ‘not simple’ or that they could not find a category for their job role, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock claiming the process was straightforward and ‘a bit like booking a flight’.
‘We can help with that by trying to have hand sanitiser , one-way systems, spacing on platforms and at bus stops and that sort of this clearly marked out.
‘There are a lot of different measures that can be taken, of which easing into this is clearly going to be one of the most important things of all.’
But he refused to confirm the idea reported last week that commuters could face temperature checks at stations before being allowed on to services.
Ban on picnics at beauty spots to be lifted
Ministers are preparing to lift restrictions on outdoor activities such as picnics as the first stage in relaxing the lockdown rules.
The Mail on Sunday understands the plans – likely to be introduced later this month if coronavirus infection rates continue to fall – will mean people can exercise several times each day and drive to the countryside and other outdoor spaces for walks and picnics.
However, they will only be allowed to do so with members of their household and must stay at least two metres (6ft 6in) away from other groups.
The change, which will end the sight of police officers moving on solitary sunbathers in parks, follows new scientific advice to ministers that the risk of transmitting the disease outside is substantially lower than indoors.
But people will still be barred from areas such as playgrounds and beaches where crowds congregate and the two-metre rule becomes harder to observe.
Covid-19 cases to be tracked by a smartphone app
Ministers are understood to be ‘optimistic’ people will download a phone app to trace the spread of coronavirus, but conceded the task to get the contact tracing system running remains ‘significant’.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said he thought the ‘vast majority’ of people would download the app and ‘play their part’ – though insisted it was just one element of the plan to stop the spread.
Contact tracing will be central to the Government’s efforts in slowing the spread of coronavirus, and will involve alerting people who have been in contact with an infected person and asking them to self-isolate.
It has been used extensively in South Korea, Hong Kong and Germany, where outbreaks have been contained more quickly.
The Government intends to use an app and a phone team to carry out the tracing.
Mr Jenrick told the daily Downing Street press conference: ‘Contact tracing will rely on all of us in society playing our part but I’m optimistic about the prospects for that.
Boroughs in London accounted for all of the top ten worst hit local authorities, the report showed
‘This has been a national effort so far – if you think of the different measures that we’ve brought forward, the restrictions, the vast majority of people have got behind it and I think that they will do again when we are able to launch the app on a national scale.’
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said to get contact tracing ‘up and running at scale and effectively’ is ‘another significant task but (there is) lots of preparation under way’.
She said: ‘We need the whole population to work with us on this, it’s quite an exciting adventure.’
Britain’s death toll (28,131) is bound to overtake Italy’s (28,236) by next week and make the UK the second worst-hit country in the world, behind only the US (65,173). The outbreak in the UK is two weeks behind Italy’s, meaning its daily death and infection jumps are decreasing at a slower rate
Quarantine for visitors from abroad
Mr Shapps said he was ‘actively looking at’ quarantining people travelling to the UK from abroad to keep coronavirus infection rates under control.
The UK has been very much an outlier in recent weeks by not halting inbound flights or insisting arrivals are checked, with experts saying it is of little help now the virus is widespread in the UK.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is believed to be among those who have demanded tougher rules for foreign visitors and the remaining Brits still abroad who make it home.
Mr Shapps said this morning: ‘I think it is important that as we are seeing the numbers decrease and the R rate we hope decrease… that we do ensure that the sacrifices in a sense – social distancing – that we are asking the British people to make are matched by anybody who comes to this country.
‘I am actively looking at these issues right now so that when we have infection rates within the country under control we are not importing.’
370 total views, 2 views today