Coronavirus: The UK is 'like a lorry speeding down a hill with its engine gone', Sage adviser warns

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4 min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 23, 2020: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on 23 September, 2020 in London, England. Yesterday, Boris Johnson announced a set of new restrictions to try to stop the spread of coronavirus in England including a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants, working from home where possible, compulsory face masks for bar staff, non-seated customers, shop workers and waiters, and fines for not wearing masks or following rules increased to £200 for first offence.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson this week announced a set of new restrictions to try to stop the spread of coronavirus. (Getty)

A leading scientist who sits on the government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) committee has compared Boris Johnson’s coronavirus response to a “lorry speeding down a hill”.

John Edmunds, a professor of epidemiology, launched a scathing attack on the government's COVID strategy in England, saying he feared ministers would “wait for it to get bad” before taking tougher action.

Speaking on Sky News, Edmunds now believes politicians are too “timid” to enforce stricter measures on the population.

Edmunds laid out an analogy of how he views the current approach to battling the increasing speed of the virus, following a rise in in positive cases.

Professor John Edmunds poses for a photograph outside the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in London, Britain April 6, 2020. Picture taken April 6, 2020. To match Special Report HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/BRITAIN-PATH REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Professor John Edmunds is a member of the government's Sage committee. (Reuters)

‘Hit the brakes hard’

The professor said: “If you can imagine we’re in a kind of lorry at the top of a hill. The engine’s gone but we do have brakes. And the lorry’s just at walking pace and it’s starting to pick up speed.

“What you can do is hit the brakes hard now and bring it back down to less than walking pace, almost to a stop. And then ease off and keep the brakes on to some extent. That should keep the lorry’s speed down at a low level.

“Or you leave it and allow the lorry to gather speed and gather speed and gather speed and then the same little touch of the brakes will only reduce the lorry’s speed from 40 down to 35 instead of down to walking speed.

“To get it back down to walking speed, you’re going to have to put the brakes on very hard for very long to bring it all the way down.”

Edmunds said that the government “did not put the brakes on fast enough” in March.

He added: “We allowed the epidemic to gather speed and gather speed and then we put the brakes on and then to bring the epidemic down we had to put the brakes on for a very long time very hard.

“That had a terrible effect on the economy. If they acted quicker – now – then I think it would not just limit the epidemic but also limit the impact on the economy as well.”

‘Circuit breaker’

Edmunds’ comments come after Scotland enforced stricter policies than those in England – including banning households from visiting each other.

Some areas of the north of England including much of the North West, North East and the West Midlands face tighter restrictions on households mixing.

The professor said he was now in favour of a similar strict approach – that should be in place for months – as the current rules will not “turn the epidemic around”.

He went on: “The measures in Scotland are a little bit more stringent, but even those I suspect won’t be sufficient to turn it around.

“I would do what has been termed a circuit breaker. I would do that now.

The changing face of the high street. People cast shadows walking past a social distancing information sign painted on the pavement on the high street in Dundee in Scotland, some six months on from the evening of March 23 when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced nationwide restrictions. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
People walking past a social distancing information sign painted on the pavement on the high street in Dundee in Scotland. (Getty)

“I would put a mini lockdown for two weeks that would bring the cases right down to a much lower level. And return ourselves to the levels of incidence in the middle of the summer.

“And then I would put in the sort of restrictions they have in Scotland and I would keep those in place throughout the UK for many months.

“People have said six months – I think we will need restrictions in place for that length of time. And they may need to be more severe than just that.”

A man, not wearing a face covering, passes signs telling travellers they must wear face mask unless they are exempt, as he leaves Victoria station during the evening 'rush hour' in central London on September 23, 2020. - The UK on Wednesday reported 6,178 new coronavirus cases, a marked jump in the daily infection rate that comes a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled new nationwide restrictions. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A man passes signs telling travellers they must wear face mask unless they are exempt. (Getty)

‘Politicians are timid’

When asked whether politicians and scientists and health experts appear to be divided on what course of action to take Edmunds added: “Politicians are timid.

“They’re going to wait for it to get bad before they take the necessary action and I think that’s a great shame.”

Edmunds is the latest health expert to criticise the prime minister’s new raft of measures to deal with growing cases in England.

Members of a family watch as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation about the latest updates on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 restrictions, on their television in their home in Liverpool on September 22, 2020. - Britain on Tuesday tightened restrictions to stem a surge of coronavirus cases, ordering pubs to close early and advising people go back to working from home to prevent a second national lockdown. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Members of a family watch as Boris Johnson addresses the nation about the latest updates on the coronavirus restrictions. (Getty)

Several top scientists said the new rules would not be enough to stop the pandemic spreading by Christmas, while measures like the 10pm curfew would “likely have little or no impact”.

Government figures released on Wednesday showed that the number of daily COVID cases had risen by a quarter.

There were 6,178 coronavirus cases in the UK in the previous 24 hours, up 1,252 since Tuesday, while there were 37 deaths.

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter