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Social distancing likely to go on long after the lockdown

The public has the right to see an exit strategy from lockdown and official secrecy about it could backfire, the government’s chief behavioural science adviser has warned.

James Rubin, who chairs the behavioural science committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, contradicted ministers’ insistence that talking about how restrictions will be eased in future risked undermining the stay-at-home message.

Openness about the plan was vital to preserving public trust in “difficult and costly” restrictions, Mr Rubin told MPs on the science and technology select committee. Graham Medley, the government’s chief pandemic modeller, also warned that there was “no real answer” on how to end restrictions, with the only end point to the epidemic being either a vaccine or herd immunity once enough people had been infected.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that talking about ending lockdown risked undermining the clarity of the instruction to stay at home, telling the BBC that government messaging had a “direct impact” on cases and deaths. “The communications are part of the policy, and that is why we will not be distracted into confusing that message,” he said. “The scientists can say what they like, the commentators can say what they like, the interviewers can say what they like. We will do what is best by dealing with this virus.”

Earlier Professor Ferguson, of Imperial College London, had said that Britain would need to maintain a “significant level” of social distancing even after the lockdown was lifted. Measures would have to stay in place until a vaccine was available — unlikely before the second half of 2021 — to avoid a second outbreak of the coronavirus.  The epidemiologist said he believed that the daily number of infections had peaked two weeks ago, but it was “too early to relax”.

On Thursday a three-week extension to the lockdown was announced, along with a series of tests to establish when some easing can begin). (Source:  The Times  17/4)