There is “no evidence” of a second wave of coronavirus and the government cannot afford a “harsh” second lockdown, a top scientist has said.
Professor Carl Heneghan, director for the centre of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, called for Boris Johnson to take a “a slower, analytical approach” ahead of a “long winter” beset by Covid-19 and other flu-like infections.
It comes after the prime minister warned a second wave “is coming” on Friday, as he hinted further restrictions were likely to follow this week.
On Friday, the “R” rate of the virus jumped to between 1.1 and 1.4, with the number of daily infections reaching more than 4,000 on Friday.
But Heneghan told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There’s no evidence right now of what’s called a second wave.”
Asked if Johnson was wrong to claim there was, he added it was was “complicated” science for ministers, saying: “This is a seasonal effect now, if it becomes worse and it impacts on disease, then yes, that’s the point when we have restrictive measures, but that time is not now.”
He went on to caution that the country must swerve “harsh measures” immediately to curb the spread of Covid-19, adding: “What we have to do now is slow down, this is a long winter.”
He said: “What we’re seeing is that the virus is operating in a seasonal way.
“As we’ve gone back to schools, actually what’s happened now is we’ve seen about a 60% increase in consultations for all the acute respiratory infections and that’s what’s driving the problems in the Test and Trace programme.
“All the young children who have coughs and colds and these infections, one is called rhinovirus.
“As we look at the data, Covid is operating in a similar seasonal way, and mirroring those respiratory infections, so what we have to do now is slow down, this is a long winter.
“We can’t afford to go now with harsh measures … the impact on the economy here is going to be significant.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, said there was a danger the infection rate could “shoot through the roof” if people did not follow the new “rule of six” on social gatherings.
It also follows ministers announcing a new £10,000 fine for those who fail to self-isolate.
Speaking to Sky News, Hancock said: “I am very worried about this second wave. “We have seen in other countries around Europe how it can absolutely shoot through the roof.”
He also hinted a second national lockdown was possible.
“The nation faces a tipping point.”
He added: “We have a choice. Either everybody follows the rules – the rule of six and the need to self-isolate if you have a positive test or if you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace – or we will have to take more measures.”
The health secretary also said it is still possible there could be a coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.
“There is still hope that we will get one of the vaccines over the line this year. The Oxford vaccine is still at the front of the queue. More likely is next year, and probably the early part of next year,” he said.
“We have got the cavalry coming over the next few months – the vaccine, the mass testing and the improvements in treatments – but we have got to all follow the rules between now and then to keep people safe.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer has said he will support the government should it impose a second lockdown, but blamed the government’s failure to get a grip of testing for the recent spike in cases.