Science, Policy & Pandemics: Perspectives on Easing Lockdown Restrictions

19 June 2020


In the thirteenth episode of our series on Science, Policy and Pandemics, our host Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by an engineer, a policy advisor and an economist to hear their perspectives on easing lockdown in the United Kingdom.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

In this episode, Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, CEO of Breathing Buildings Ltd and a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the Department of Engineering at Cambridge University; former Special Advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron Mats Persson, and Salma Shah, former Special Adviser to Sajid Javid.

Throughout the discussion, Dr Fitzgerald noted that our current understanding of covid-19 suggests that one of the three principle mechanisms through which this virus may be transmitted is aerosols, where particles emanating from the airway of an infected person are dispersed within the environment and linger in the air. The evidence base for this mechanism of transmission is being developed, and we still do not know the dose threshold for risk of transmission, however, Dr Fitzgerald stresses that "an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". Consequently, he believes that as lockdown eases, we must consider developing risk mitigation strategies in the operation of buildings. His highlighted the importance of good ventilation to help dilute virus particles which may be dispersed into indoor environments when there are multiple people occupying that space at one time or one following another.

As we come out of lockdown, Dr Fitzgerald also noted that where we see policy divergences between countries in their approaches to covid-19 management such as differences in 1m vs 2m social distancing, or between the status of mandatory mask wearing. He suggests that this may be a case of countries applying scientific data in different ways, dependent upon local disease prevalence and how a government wishes to combine the various levers which can be used to help control virus spread. For example, while restaurants have re-opened in Hong Kong, customers wear face coverings when not at their tables. Dr Fitzgerald also suggested that covid-19 may present an opportunity for the introduction of novel technologies and new business strategies, as we find ways to restart our economy in the context of a pandemic.

Meanwhile, Mats Persson stressed that, "the economic aspects are becoming increasingly important as we get more understanding of how both consumers and businesses are reacting to the lockdown and the lockup." He suggests that unemployment is arguably one of the bigger economic and social challenges which will emerge from this crisis. Consequently, he believes that as we go forward, we need to weigh the health risk involved versus the consequences of long-term scarring within the economy. Consequently, he suggests that the best way forward is to bring together different pieces of the puzzle into an evidence-based discussion between government departments including Health, Business, and DWP, to create a holistic picture of factors involved in this crisis, which can then be used to inform the way forward.

CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, and Castbox.

Cover Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash