Restrictions on social contact in the United Kingdom will need to be in place for “at least most of a year” to ensure the coronavirus outbreak is kept under control, the government’s scientific advisers have said.
The strict measures on “social distancing,” such as advising people not to socialize in restaurants, closing schools and keeping vulnerable groups at home, will only be effective if used all together and for a prolonged period, they said. Otherwise, at the peak of the outbreak, the UK’s public health service would be overwhelmed.
The conclusions are contained in a set of papers from Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which provides scientific and technical advice to government decision makers during emergencies, published by the government on Friday.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier this week that coronavirus could be beaten within 12 weeks, the documents suggested the effort would last considerably longer.
Some more background: In a document dated March 16, the advisers said that isolation and the social distancing of vulnerable groups alone were “very unlikely to prevent critical care facilities being overwhelmed."
If the government added school closures and wider social distancing, that “would be likely to control the epidemic when kept in place for a long period” and should be implemented “as soon as practical.”
It said that authorities could alternate between strict and more relaxed social distancing measures. But in total, restrictions would need to be in place for at least a year, with the stricter measures enacted for at least six months.
The government has been criticized for not making its advice mandatory — particularly in London, where the spread of the virus is more advanced than in the rest of the UK.