February 16, 2021 - 3:07pm

When is life going to go back to normal? That’s the question on everyone’s lips and one that Government ministers have — so far— been reluctant to answer. It was hoped that the advent of a vaccine would lead to a loosening of restrictions, but as things stand the country will be in full lockdown for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile there is a growing campaign among some parts of the ZeroCovid campaign for keeping certain restrictions in place permanently.

One scientist who stands firmly against this proposal is Dr Michael Tildesley, an epidemiologist from the University of Warwick. Dr Tildesley is a formal advisor to the Government, on SPI-M or the “scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling”, which feeds into SAGE, the government scientific committee. While Dr Tildesley favours a slow and gradual loosening of restrictions, he is adamant that keeping restrictive measures in place forever is “very, very scary” and verging on “dystopian”:

I worry actually about the long term mental health harm and developmental harm for our children. There’ll be some really young children that won’t be used to actually interacting with with strangers with people not in their family, because they never see their faces. I can understand the need for these restrictions now, but I would hope we would be trying to achieve a society where in the long term, we can get back to some semblance of normality.

There may be certain things that actually we take forward: better hygiene, making sure we wash our hands, maybe using hand gel, when we go in and out of places. These are things that actually a pretty good practice, and we should continue to observe, but I think we are a sociable society. And we should try to achieve at least getting back to some level of being able to interact with people that are not in our immediate family. I do worry about a lot of the rhetoric that suggests that there’s going to be some level of controls that we’re just going to keep forever.

- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV

On loosening restrictions:

The key thing for us when it comes to relaxing lockdown is the need to do it gradually. We do know that any kind of relaxation is going to impact the R number. But we do have some good news, which is that the vaccination campaigns going really well. And far better actually, than I thought it would have done at the start of January. If we can keep that trajectory going and these vaccines work, and they have a high level of protection, not just from severe symptoms, but also in terms of blocking transmission, we could be in a position that by the summer, we can dramatically ease lockdown. But it’s really dependent upon getting a high level of uptake of vaccine, even in the non vulnerable groups.
- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV

On the inadequacy of the R number as a lone metric:

If the virus is sweeping through the healthy population, and no one’s getting badly sick, that’s acceptable. Even if there’s a low level of hospitalisations, then maybe that’s also acceptable. So it’s not just the R number. It’s really the R number coupled with any kind of local prevalence. If there are particular communities with high numbers of cases, or if there is evidence of hospitals starting to come under pressure, then all of these things need to be taken into account. If the vaccines are really good at protecting the vulnerable, and then actually, as I said, the R number becomes almost irrelevant. Actually we’re really focusing on what’s going on in the community what’s going on in our hospitals. And if, if that’s okay, then we could potentially relax controls further.
- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV

On an acceptable level of Covid:

If we are not going to eliminate Covid, and I would argue that that’s probably extremely unlikely, certainly in the near future, then we do need to have that discussion. What are we as a society prepared to accept in terms of the numbers of people in hospital and the number of people sadly dying? People die from all causes every day: we have people dying from cancer, we have people dying from heart disease. And actually, you know, the cancer figures, 400/450 people a day: they’re horrifying. If they were reported every single day, the number of people dying from cancer, those figures would be really, really scary. But we don’t put them so you know, at what level are we as a society prepared to accept it?
- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV

On ZeroCovid:

The only way you can really achieve ZeroCovid and stay with ZeroCovid is to achieve ZeroCovid internationally because you are always going to be under that risk of reintroduction. And I think this is the problem. So yes, theoretically, we probably could do it if we went into severe lockdown for the next year, banned anyone coming into the country. Then we could probably get to ZeroCovid levels. But this is just not practical. And if we go into these kinds of severe restrictions, there is long term harm and not just economic harm: if we stay in lockdown for another 12 months, there’s the potential for more people going into poverty, and that has negative health implications as well. So this is it’s a pipe dream to think about achieving that. 
- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV

On the ‘old normal’:

We should really want the old normal back so that we can see our loved ones and have that level of social interaction because we’re a social species. A lot of the dystopian discussion of a new normal actually really scares me, because I think we lose that level of social interaction that actually keeps us going. We don’t talk enough about mental health. And actually, one of the big challenges in the last 12 months has been people who have suffered more from mental health challenges before the pandemic, but also an awful lot of people who have suffered as a result of the pandemic.
- Dr Michael Tildesley, LockdownTV