Article By: Lydia Chantler-Hicks
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A Kent virologist who called for a second national lockdown says children should wear masks in school as he urges more can be done to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Prof Martin Michaelis - a molecular medicine expert at the University of Kent - told KentOnline last month that the widespread restrictions were needed to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.
A four-week lockdown is now set to begin on Thursday, but Prof Michaelis, from Whitstable, says its efficacy depends upon the actions taken by individual people.
"We can't get across how serious this disease is," he said.
"If people adhere to the lockdown, it will work. How well it will work is a different question.
"It really depends on the adherence of the people and the agreement that they behave prudently; that they are careful, stay apart, wear a mask, wash their hands, isolate if they have symptoms."
The government's decision to allow schools to remain open during the lockdown has caused controversy amongst health experts, with a former chief scientific adviser warning it could mean infection rates stay higher for longer.
Prof Michaelis described it as a "very tricky" issue.
'The terms 'covid safe' or 'covid secure' should be banned...'
"I'm not convinced they should close, but I think schools should be more careful," he said. "Bubbles should be smaller.
"And children should wear masks."
He added that the fact the common cold is still spreading is an indication more could be done to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
"My children come home from school with a common cold and I get irritable," he said.
"Obviously it's not their fault, but nobody should have colds. If our measures are working, respiratory diseases shouldn't spread. If you stay apart, these viruses cannot spread."
Prof Michaelis says a "long-term plan" is needed to prevent an endless cycle of lockdowns.
But he says increasing hospital capacity is "the wrong direction in which to look".
"Prevention is the important thing," he said. "What we can all do individually is very important. Every one of us can be more careful.
"There's always the question of 'can we do this within the rules?' And that's not what is going to stop the virus.
"People have to take on more responsibility."
Prof Michaelis criticised "over-simplified" slogans that have become commonplace during the pandemic, which he feels may lead to complacency.
"The terms 'covid safe' or 'covid secure' should be banned," he said. "You're never never safe or 100% sure that you will not be infected.
"We're trying to tackle a very serious, complex problem with very simple messages, because we just think people are too stupid to pick up the real gist of it; the underlying complexity.
'Our old normal is gone - we won't go back to that...'
"The rules are blunt and oversimplified. So we have to go beyond them.
"Lockdown is going to help, but if we don't learn to do things differently, and better, it will just delay the inevitable - the next lockdown, and the next."
Asked if he feels the lockdown - currently scheduled to last from Thursday until December 2 - is long enough, he said: "I think we could be much more ambitious.
"I would probably do it longer.
"It's not that I wouldn't feel sorry for the hospitality industry," he added. "I understand a lot of people suffer.
"As a society we should show solidarity and find a way. We should also be much more creative and forward-thinking and brave in thinking about how we can deal with this virus.
"We have to do something different now. Our old normal is gone - we won't go back to that.
"That's like before Brexit; before the fall of the Berlin Wall; before the financial crisis. We're not going back - our life has changed.
"And we will only be able to make the best out of that and learn to live with it when we accept that.
"Then we can develop this new normal, which won't necessarily be worse than the old one."