Published: 11:15, 20 October 2020
| Updated: 17:48, 20 October 2020
We will bounce from one lockdown to the next for "quite some time" without an effective test and trace system - and tighter restrictions are needed now to protect jobs and save lives.
That's the view of University of Kent virologist Professor Martin Michaelis.
Ismail Khwaja speaks to Prof Martin Michaelis
Wales has announced a two-week 'firebreak' lockdown despite coronavirus cases being very low in many regions.
And expert in molecular medicine Prof Michaelis says the rest of the UK needs to follow suit now.
"SAGE (the government's Science Advisory Group for Emergencies) suggested having a 'circuit breaker' lockdown weeks ago.
"If you want to keep numbers low you have to do it early," said the lecturer who has more than two decades of experience and is currently undertaking important work to compare Covid-19 to the 2002 outbreak of similar virus Sars which killed 774 people.
Test and trace is the best way of living with the virus but for the system to work numbers have to be low, he said, adding: "If you don't [lockdown] now more people will become infected and many more will die."
The main argument against a second lockdown is the impact it will have on the economy, jobs and other medical issues.
Numbers suggest an increase in non-coronavirus deaths, such as from cancer, due to people not going to appointments or getting diagnosed later as well as a mental health crisis due to being stuck indoors.
But Prof Michaelis thinks if the virus is allowed to spread the NHS will quickly become overwhelmed, the sickest people won't have access to hospital beds and businesses will be badly impacted by staff being ill.
He said: "If people lose their livelihoods that's terrible but in the end the question is if we let this virus spread will it cause fewer problems and I'm not convinced of that.
"People won't behave as normal, all these ideas of the economy still being thriving relies on people still coming to work and not being sick or afraid to leave the house."
Figures suggest a first wave without lockdown would have seen two thirds of the population infected and 200,000 to 250,000 deaths. To date the UK has recorded just under 44,000.
Any comparison to flu, he explained, is false as a standard influenza outbreak kills 350,000 to 400,000 worldwide in a year with no long-term symptoms for survivors.
Covid-19 has to date killed 1.1 million and there are multiple accounts of survivors of all ages suffering severe long-term symptoms, referred to as 'long Covid'.
But Prof Michaelis did say he is "convinced" we could manage without strict measures and live with the virus but would all have to change the way we live.
"We are probably not there yet," he added, explaining that going forward: "We have two options. We either keep the numbers down, obviously test and trace that would be a game changer if the numbers are low or we will run from one lockdown into the next one for quite a while."
England is now in a three-tiered system , where localised lockdowns can be brought in depending on the rate of infection in different areas. Kent is judged to be medium risk (Tier 1), whereas neighbouring London and most of Essex face tougher restrictions under Tier 2.
But the evidence is unclear as to whether such a strategy is effective and many scientists and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have called for a short nationwide 'circuit breaker' lockdown , similar to the first, to break the chain of infection and get test and trace working properly.
According to the latest figures week-on-week cases have fallen in all but two parts of Kent , Thanet and Swale, but in Swale the rate now stands at 89.3 cases per 100,000 people after 134 positive tests in the week up to October 15.