Experts warn Boris Johnson’s ‘disturbing decision’ to limit gatherings

UK’s coronavirus response is being led by a ‘Dad’s Army’ of well-paid people with no experience, top scientists say as they call on Boris Johnson to stop panicking and scrap the rule of six

  • Rule of six shows ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of Covid Britain, experts say
  • Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine experts criticised new legislation  
  • Another 3,330 cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK on Sunday

Britain’s coronavirus response is being led by a ‘Dad’s Army’ of well-paid people with no experience, two leading scientists have said as they called on Number 10 to stop panicking and scrap the controversial ‘rule of six’.

Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from Oxford University, accused Boris Johnson of making a series of ‘catastrophic’ errors since returning to work in April, following his own battle with the killer virus.

They said the country’s pandemic response has suffered because it has been led by Government officials inexperienced in controlling public health.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, they pointed out, has had the job for only two years; chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was appointed in 2019; Boris Johnson was elected last year; and the Joint Biosecurity Centre – created to fight the Covid-19 pandemic – is run by a spy.

Professor Heneghan and Professor Jefferson warned the government’s new move to limit gatherings – which came into force today – was ‘disturbing’ and had ‘no scientific evidence to back it up’. They argued that it may instead end up having ‘major consequences’. 

And in urging ministers to carry on with life because containing the spread of Covid-19 is ‘unrealistic’, they warned the ‘roll of the dice’ to crack down on large gatherings may tip the public over the edge and said it should be ‘binned’.

Gatherings of more than six people have been made illegal in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, which experts have warned is on the verge of spiralling out of control. Under-12s are exempt from the rules in Wales and Scotland.

Thousands of Britons enjoyed a final group pint together last night ahead of the new rules, amid fears worse could be in the pipeline with a 10pm curfew for pubs being considered because young people are ‘forgetting’ Covid regulations.

The government has asked families to snitch on their neighbours if they see them breaking the regulations.  

Police can fine people up to £3,200 if they disobey the policy and Home Secretary Priti Patel has warned that people face criminal records if they refuse to abide by the law. 

A graph showing the proportional change in the numbers of new cases of Covid-19 in Britain suggest they are now rising at a similar rate to what was seen in April, a fortnight or so after lockdown started

A graph showing the proportional change in the numbers of new cases of Covid-19 in Britain suggest they are now rising at a similar rate to what was seen in April, a fortnight or so after lockdown started

Writing in The Telegraph, Professor Heneghan and Professor Jefferson said: ‘It is a disturbing decision that has no scientific evidence to back it up, and may well end up having major social consequences.’ 

The column slammed the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic, warning he has been ‘beset by anxieties, doubts and fear’.

And it said he has made a series of errors since returning to work in April, following his own battle with the killer virus.

The two experts claimed those leading the UK’s response to the pandemic were ‘little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand’. 

And they added: ‘The rule of six policy should be binned.

‘When Boris Johnson returned to work in April after his brush with coronavirus, he warned that lockdown restrictions must remain to prevent a second wave. 

‘Ever since, beset by anxieties, doubts and fear, and surrounded by a platoon of advisors, the PM has made one cautious, catastrophic error after another.

‘Last week’s roll of the dice with the ‘rule of six” could well be the policy that tips the British public over the edge, for it is a disturbing decision that has no scientific evidence to back it up and may well end up having major social consequences.’

Professor Tom Jefferson has criticised the Government's decision to enforce stricter lockdown rules

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, said the new rules show a 'fundamental misunderstanding,' of the current state of coronavirus Britain

Professor Tom Jefferson (left) and Professor Carl Heneghan (right) have criticised the Government’s decision to enforce stricter lockdown rules

RULE OF SIX RESTRICTIONS: HOW ARE THEY BEING APPLIED DIFFERENTLY IN EACH NATION? 

The number of people that can attend social gatherings have been slashed across the UK following a rise in coronavirus cases.

New rules were implemented in England, Wales and Scotland from Monday.

However, they are being applied slightly differently in each devolved administration.

England

From Monday, gatherings of more than six people are illegal.

The rules apply across England to all ages and in any setting either indoors and outdoors, at home or a pub.

A single household or support bubble that is larger than six will still be able to gather.

Covid-secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality settings can still hold more than six in total.

Education and work settings are not affected by the new rules.

Weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people if conducted in a Covid-secure way.

Wales

People in Wales are only able to meet in groups of six or under indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group.

Up to four households can join together to form an extended household.

But, unlike in England, children under 12 are exempt and will not count towards that total.

Also unlike in England, people can still meet up in groups of up to 30 outdoors, as long as social distancing is maintained.

The changes do not apply in Caerphilly county borough due to its rise in Covid-19 cases.

Scotland

A maximum of six people from two households are allowed to meet together in Scotland.

Just like in England, the new limit applies when people meet in restaurants, pubs and beer gardens, as well as in homes.

However, children under the age of 12, who are part of the two households meeting do not count towards the limit of six people, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

There are ‘some limited exceptions’, covering organised sports and places of worship.

Up to 20 people can attend weddings, civil partnerships and funerals, as well as receptions and wakes, which is more stringent than both England and Wales.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has not announced any changes to how many people can gather. However, localised coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Belfast and Ballymena.

People from two or more households in these areas are not able to meet in private settings.

There are a number of limited exceptions, including childcare provision and households that have formed a social bubble with another.

No more than six people, from no more than two households, are allowed to meet in private gardens.

In Northern Ireland, the number of people who can gather indoors in a private home was already reduced from 10 people from four households to six people from two households last month due to a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Up to 15 people can meet outdoors.

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Professor Heneghan and Professor Jefferson added: ‘At Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, we have spent years trawling through the scientific evidence on the effects of measures such as distancing on respiratory viral spread. 

‘We are not aware of any study pointing to the number six. If it’s made up, why not five or seven?’

The professors went on to criticise the Government’s attempt to blame young people for a recent rise in Covid-19 infections, asking what the purpose of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was if it was going to cause a rise in cases.

They say the rule of six will have a minimal impact, citing their years of research at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, which was set up to improve every day clinical practice. 

They wrote: ‘At its core, the decision to restrict gatherings belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening with coronavirus in Britain.’

The article points out that 600 Covid patients are currently in hospital, compared with 17,000 at the height of the pandemic.

Yesterday five people died with Covid-19, compared with an average of more than 1,000 at the peak of the pandemic.

But cases are on the up. Another 3,330 infections were recorded yesterday, an 11 per cent increase on the figure for last Sunday. 

Data suggests the spike is being driven by young people, who rarely get seriously ill or die of the disease.

Professors Heneghan and Jefferson said it was ‘not rocket science’ and that asking Britons to return to work would lead to a spike in respiratory infections, ‘as it does every year’.

However, they warned it was ‘wide of the mark’ to assume Britain was on the brink of a catastrophic second wave just because cases were rising.

They wrote in The Telegraph: ‘Cases will rise, as they will in winter for all acute respiratory pathogens, but this will not necessarily translate into excess deaths.’

And they warned of the damaging effects the lockdown itself had caused. The pair said: ‘During lockdown, a fifth of vulnerable people considered self-harming, routine healthcare came to a standstill, operations were cancelled, and cancer care put on hold.

‘In the short term, we have a choice: contain the spread – which is unrealistic – or shelter the vulnerable and get on with life… life should return to as close as possible to normality.’

Professor Heneghan is director of of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, while Professor Jefferson is a senior associate tutor and an honorary research fellow there, too.

MailOnline has approached No. 10 and the Department of Health and Social Care for comment. 

It comes as the crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse this morning confirmed families should report their neighbours if they saw them breaking the rules.

And he did not rule out the possibility of a dedicated hotline – although insisted the police non-emergency number was the contact point for now.

He said: ‘We are in discussion about what reporting mechanisms might be, there is obviously the non-emergency number people can ring to report issues they wish to and certainly in lockdown – the initial phase of lockdown – we did see a surge of those reports coming through to the police.

‘If people are concerned and they do think there has been contravention then that option is open to them.

‘It’s open people to do that through the non-emergency number and if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing then absolutely they should think about that.’

The hard tactics followed cities last night seeing revellers mount a last hurrah before the rules with the warm weather providing perfect conditions for the social gatherings.

Yesterday sun-soaked areas such as Bournemouth, Brighton and Nottingham were packed before the strict new regulations came in to tackle rising coronavirus infection rates.

But it came as officials urged young people to heed their warnings and remember ‘the importance of the rules’ as the country’s Covid case total continues to soar.

Some 3,330 coronavirus cases were reported yesterday – up 11 per cent from last Sunday. 

It follows 3,497 confirmed cases on Saturday and 3,539 cases on Friday.

But deaths have yet to spike in line with the rising number of cases. More than 1,000 Britons were dying with Covid-19 each day during the darkest days of the crisis in April. 

The final countdown: Drinkers realised Sunday could be their last big night out so made the most of the evening

The final countdown: Drinkers realised Sunday could be their last big night out so made the most of the evening

Final hurrah: one drinker in Leeds gives a thumbs up on Sunday night before the new restrictions kicked in this morning

Final hurrah: one drinker in Leeds gives a thumbs up on Sunday night before the new restrictions kicked in this morning

Beach goers packed out the roads in Bournemouth before the 'rule of six' restrictions come into force today, limiting contact

Beach goers packed out the roads in Bournemouth before the ‘rule of six’ restrictions come into force today, limiting contact

GOVERNMENT TELLS FAMILIES TO SHOP THEIR NEIGHBOURS IF THEY BREAK THE RULE 

Ministers today urged people to report neighbours if they fear they are flouting new ‘Rule of Six’ coronavirus curbs.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said rule-breakers should be flagged to the authorities, amid a backlash at the draconian measures.

The drastic intervention comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel warned that people face criminal records if they refuse to abide by the law.

Meanwhile, the government’s response has been slammed by top scientists as panicky and led by a ‘Dads Army’ of people with no experience.

The restrictions are now in force in England after a weekend in which many members of the public enjoyed a final meet up.

Gatherings of more than six people have been made illegal in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, which experts have warned is on the verge of spiralling out of control. It means that many larger households can no longer meet up with anyone else together.

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Meanwhile, a report has revealed that up to 4.5million people most at risk from Covid will be instructed to stay at home under a new shielding plan based on health, age and weight.

Letters with tailored advice are to be sent to individuals based on a new ‘risk model’ which will factor in underlying health conditions, age, sex and weight.

It will be introduced first for areas with high rates of infection but a Whitehall source told The Sunday Telegraph ‘if the rate is so concerning across the whole of England we are prepared to do it on a blanket basis’.

It comes after it was revealed yesterday that Boris Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds held a top-secret baptism for their son on Saturday.

Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson’s baptism was witnessed by only a few family and friends at the weekend, just days before the rule of six restrictions came into force.

There was no reception after the religious ceremony as the PM and Ms Symonds were reportedly keen to set a good example for the public and abide by social distancing rules.

Downing Street declined to comment on the baptism. The couple has not released any photographs of the baptism or announced where it took place.

A source told The Sun: ‘After everything Boris and Carrie have been through this year, baptising Wilfred was a very special moment.

‘They shared it with a small number of people and the service was simple but beautiful, with lots of tears and laughter.’ 

The PM’s four month old son was born on April 29, just weeks after Mr Johnson left intensive care after battling coronavirus.

One of the baby’s middle names, Nicholas, is a tribute to the two doctors who cared for the Prime Minister as he battled the deadly disease.

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