England’s Covid unlocking is threat to world, say 1,200 scientists
Boris Johnson’s plan to lift virtually all of England’s pandemic restrictions on Monday is a threat to the world and provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants, international experts say.
At an emergency summit on Friday government advisers in New Zealand, Israel and Italy sounded alarm bells about Downing Street’s policy, while more than 1,200 scientists backed a letter to the Lancet journal warning that the strategy could allow vaccine-resistant variants to develop.
The letter said: “We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.”
“The world is watching the current avoidable crisis unfold in the UK,” said Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, who is taking part in Friday’s summit.
She added on Twitter: “Let’s be under no illusions – we are in a country where our government is taking steps to maximally expose our young to a virus that causes chronic illness in many. Our govt is ending all protections for our children including isolation of contacts of cases in schools & bubbles.”
The summit, All the Citizens, was being broadcast live on YouTube at noon UK time.
Among those urging the UK government to “urgently reconsider” its plans was Prof Meir Rubin, an adviser to the Israeli government, who went on Twitter on Friday to highlighted the risks to young people in Britain.
Professor Shu-Ti Chiou, a former director-general of Taiwan’s health department, said on Twitter: “What does a ‘responsible’ reopen look like? What freedom do we value – the freedom from preventable #Covid19 sequelae, or the freedom of not doing anything to protect ourselves?”
The concerns expressed in other countries comes after Dr Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, warned on Thursday that the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 could reach “quite scary” levels within weeks, as cases soared caused by the more contagious Delta variant and the lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Whitty said in a webinar late on Thursday, hosted by the Science Museum, that hospital admissions were doubling about every three weeks, and that the current low numbers of Covid admissions could rise to serious levels in the next couple of months. He said: “It doesn’t take many doublings until we’re in actually quite scary numbers again … I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.”
New coronavirus infections in the UK are at a six-month high, according to government figures, and the number of people in hospital and dying with Covid-19 are at their highest level since March. Thursday’s data showed 3,786 people in hospital with Covid-19 and another 63 virus-related deaths.
Downing Street, which has defended the lifting all remaining legal restrictions on social gatherings in England on 19 July, is hoping that the rapid rollout of vaccines will keep a lid on the number of people becoming seriously ill.
It will no longer be a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most settings in England, although the government has said it “expects and recommends” that people continue to do so in crowded areas.
More than two-thirds of British adults have received both doses of a vaccine, and almost 88% have had one dose.