A group of 229 scientists from UK universities say the government’s current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and “risk many more lives than necessary”.
Hundreds of scientists have written to the government in an open letter urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19.
The scientists also questioned the government’s view that people will become fed up with restrictions if they were imposed too soon.
The UK’s approach to coping with the coronavirus pandemic has been in stark contrast to other countries. The whole of Italy has been in lockdown since Tuesday, while Poland is set to close its borders for two weeks.
On Saturday the French government ordered the closure of all non-essential public locations from midnight (23:00 GMT Saturday).
And Spain is poised to declare a 15-day national lockdown on Monday to battle the virus,
The letter was sent after another 10 people died in the UK of the virus bringing the death count to 21.
In the open letter the group of scientists argue that stronger “social distancing measures” would “dramatically” slow the rate of growth of the disease in the UK, and would spare “thousands of lives”.
The group said the current measures are “insufficient” and “additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately”, as is happening in other countries.
In a seperate letter to Downing Street, more than 200 behavioural scientists have questioned the government’s argument that starting tougher measures too soon would lead to people not sticking to them just at the point that the epidemic is at its height.
“While we fully support an evidence-based approach to policy that draws on behavioural science, we are not convinced that enough is known about ‘behavioural fatigue’ or to what extent these insights apply to the current exceptional circumstances,” the letter said.
“Such evidence is necessary if we are to base a high-risk public health strategy on it.”
“In fact, it seems likely that even those essential behaviour changes that are presently required (e.g., handwashing) will receive far greater uptake the more urgent the situation is perceived to be. Carrying on as normal for as long as possible undercuts that urgency,” it added.
The scientists said “radical behaviour change” could have a “much better” effect and could “save very large numbers of lives”.
“Experience in China and South Korea is sufficiently encouraging to suggest that this possibility should at least be attempted,” it added.
The second letter called on the government to reconsider its stance on “behavioural fatigue” and to share the evidence on which it based this stance.