Coronavirus: Chris Whitty says UK public 'overwhelmingly' intend to follow health advice to protect others

16 October 2020, 16:19 | Updated: 16 October 2020, 19:32

The UK public "overwhelmingly" intend to follow public health advice to protect others from coronavirus, Professor Chris Whitty has said.

England's chief medical officer said despite April lockdown measures being the most severe state curbs on freedom in decades, up to 90% of the public supported the restrictions and that, "overwhelmingly people intend to follow public health advice to protect others".

He said people want others to do the same so their sacrifice wouldn't be "in vain", and there was an expectation "the state [could] help ensure this".

Coronavirus rates are rising rapidly in the UK amid a second wave. There has been a big jump in the total believed to be infected in England - rising from an estimated 224,400 to 336,500 in a week.

Prof Whitty made the comments during an online lecture on the role of the state in public health.

In his speech for Gresham College in London, Prof Whitty said historically governments have been expected to intervene in pandemics and epidemics as a matter of public health.

He spoke about how, during the plague in the middle ages, 14 days of quarantine were applied to travellers and how in the 1800s combating cholera and typhoid was considered the most important role of state.

He added: "COVID-19 is a current example…The state has the authority and the resources to act fast by imposing lockdown, restricting travel, switching research priorities, expanding healthcare or underwriting a furlough scheme.

"It is not obvious what the alternatives to the state are in emergencies on this scale."

He also said vaccines fell under the responsibility of the government and that the public viewed mass vaccination programmes as a state-wide matter.

The prime minister has brought in "medium", "high" and "very high" alert levels, with three levels of tiered restrictions designed to slow the virus.

Liverpool and Lancashire have been put under the strictest measures - Tier 3 - while London, Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, North East Derbyshire, Erewash, Chesterfield, and York are under Tier 2.

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On Monday, Prof Whitty said the highest level of restrictions in the three-tier local lockdown system "will not be sufficient" to slow COVID-19 infections alone.

Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing shortly after Boris Johnson confirmed the new system of localised COVID-19 restrictions, Prof Chris Whitty said he was "very confident that the measures that are currently in place are helping to slow the virus, and these measures will help to slow it further".

But he added: "I am not confident - and nor is anybody confident - that the Tier 3 proposals for the highest rates, if we did the absolute base case and nothing more, would be enough to get on top of it."