Scientists urge ministers to agree on an ‘acceptable’ number of Covid-19 infections that the country could live with as a tolerable risk

  • Government expert Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ‘sensible discussion’ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid
  • McClean was giving evidence to Commons science and technology committee
  • Many worried about the collateral effects of lockdowns have already suggested that Britain must learn to live with the virus like it does with other illnesses 

Scientists have pleaded with ministers to give them an ‘acceptable’ number of Covid infections that Britain is prepared to live with, said one government expert yesterday.

Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ‘sensible discussion’ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid.

‘One of the things we have cried out for again and again, is could somebody in a position of political power tell us what is an acceptable number of infections,’ she said.

‘We do need to decide what level we feel is acceptable, and then we can manage our lives with that in mind.’ 

Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ¿sensible discussion¿ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid. Pictured: A couple walking past a closed pub in Camden, London

Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ¿sensible discussion¿ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid. Pictured: A couple walking past a closed pub in Camden, London

Professor Dame Angela McLean said that a ‘sensible discussion’ was needed about a tolerable level of risk from Covid. Pictured: A couple walking past a closed pub in Camden, London

Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee.

Many of those worried about the collateral effects of lockdowns have already suggested that Britain must learn to live with the virus like it does with other illnesses.

Another expert told the committee that the public will want their normal lives back once everyone has been vaccinated. 

Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee (pictured on Wednesday)

Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee (pictured on Wednesday)

Dame Angela, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee (pictured on Wednesday)

Professor Sir John Bell, who advises the UK’s vaccine taskforce, said: ‘It’s not plausible to imagine a world where we vaccinate the whole country and everybody believes they’re still in the place that we were in six months ago.’

The expert, who is regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, asked MPs to think about a situation where very few people died, no one was admitted to hospital and there was no long-Covid, which vaccines might have an impact upon.

‘People will feel – with some justification in my view – that they would like to get back to a relatively normal way of life, and we are going to have to get used to that,’ he said. 

With only one virus, smallpox, ever having been eradicated, there is growing pressure for a national conversation about what level of Covid infections and deaths the country might be prepared to accept.

Many experts point out that we already live with risk, with an average of 17,000 deaths a year in England from flu and some 1,700 road accident deaths in 2019.

Greg Clark, chairman of the science and technology committee, told Radio 4’s World at One there cannot be ‘zero tolerance’… ‘otherwise we wouldn’t be driving cars and we wouldn’t be going out in the winter for fear of flu.’ 

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