Coronavirus: Second national lockdown not needed – Neil Ferguson

Prof Neil FergusonImage copyright
Imperial college london

A former government adviser has said he does not believe a second national lockdown would be necessary during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prof Neil Ferguson, whose advice led to the decision to go into lockdown, said he would expect to see “targeted” restrictions to contain outbreaks.

He told Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4’s Political Thinking the easing needed to be monitored “very closely”.

And the UK should “be prepared to row back a bit” if cases increased.

The next series of measures to ease the lockdown will take place in England on 4 July, when the 2m (6ft) social distancing rule reduces to “one metre plus”.

This will allow some pubs, restaurants and cafes to reopen while complying with safety guidelines.


Northern Ireland has also announced it will reduce the distancing rule to 1m with restrictions from Monday.

In Scotland and Wales, the 2m distancing rule remains in place for the moment.

Prof Ferguson, who quit his adviser role after he breached lockdown guidance, told the BBC’s Nick Robinson: “Right now we are experimenting, frankly.

“I don’t disagree with the policy changes announced this week, but 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.”

He said it will be like playing “a game of Whack-A-Mole” – a phrase frequently used by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – with “targeted” lockdowns to suppress local outbreaks.

“I think we just need to look around Europe at the clusters of cases popping up in different contexts to have a good understanding of what we might expect to see here after 4 July,” Prof Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said.

“I don’t expect to see a uniform, very large growth of cases across the country.

“What I do expect to see, depending on how sensible people are, how much they judge the risks themselves and reduce those risks, is clusters of cases – outbreaks in some individual facilities like food production plants, but also maybe in social contexts, particular work places and particular schools.”

He said he believed there would be “a bigger potential risk of more widespread community transmission” as the UK goes into autumn and winter.

Inquiry call

Prof Ferguson also said that if there is to be an inquiry into the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, it should not be held until the end of the year.

He said that would be the “appropriate” time to look back as it would be “highly disruptive”.

An inquiry would highlight “how systems can work better and what structural things can be done better”, he said.

“I don’t think inquiries in this context serve much purpose in attributing personal blame on individuals,” he said.

“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.”

‘Honest appraisal’

It comes as some MPs say they will form a cross-party parliamentary group in support of an urgent inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The group, set up by campaign group March for Change, will be led by Layla Moran, who is bidding to be the next Liberal Democrat leader.

“This isn’t about attributing blame, it’s about working together across political parties to ensure the right lessons are learned ahead of a potential second wave,” she said.

Conservative MP and group member Dan Poulter said: “It is vital that we are not complacent during the summer months and use this time wisely to urgently learn lessons and ensure we are better prepared for the potentially dangerous winter months ahead.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously rejected calls for a review.

Elsewhere, Bernard Jenkin, Commons Liaison Committee chairman, has said it was “essential” that the UK is prepared for a second wave of coronavirus later this year.

“Medics are right to call for a swift cross-party ‘lessons learned’ exercise to be completed by October,” he said in response to an open letter from health profession leaders published in the British Medical Journal.

“This would not only contribute to UK’s readiness for a new Covid peak but would also strengthen public confidence in the government’s readiness.”