More than 100 scientists and doctors have signed a letter accusing the UK Government of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” and urging it to reconsider its plans to abandon all coronavirus restrictions.
Any strategy that “tolerates high levels of infection is both unethical and illogical”, according to the 122 signatories who include Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser and chair of Independent Sage, and Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the Council for the British Medical Association.
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At a glance: 5 key points
- The letter, published in The Lancet, comes after the announcement that virtually all Covid-19 restrictions could be lifted in England from Monday 19 July, pending a final decision on Monday 12 July
- The letter warned that an exponential growth of the virus would likely continue “until millions more are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands with long term illness and disability”
- The warning also stressed the risk of long Covid to the wider population, especially those who were vulnerable, younger people and children, and those who were unvaccinated
- The letter called for the Government to reconsider its current strategy and to “take urgent steps to protect the public, including children”
- The warning comes after announcements that many self isolation requirements will no longer apply to those who are fully vaccinated, such as upon returning from an amber list country, or if they’ve come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus
What’s been said
Dr Nagpaul said the numbers of Covid-19 cases in the UK were soaring and while the link between hospitalisations and deaths had weakened, it had not been broken.
“The Government has also airbrushed the impact of long Covid on one in 10 people getting infected and with two million having been unwell for more than three months. It would be irresponsible to inflict further suffering on millions more,” he said.
“We know that masks are effective in stopping the spread, so it is nonsensical and dangerous for the Government to abandon compulsory mask-wearing in indoor public settings, such as public transport, on July 19.”
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University who organised the letter, said: “The Government has made a deliberate choice to expose children to mass infection, rather than protect them in schools or vaccinate them.
“This is unethical and unacceptable. Our young have already suffered so much in the past year, and are now being condemned to suffer the consequences of this dangerous experiment.”
Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said “there is no scientific consensus over the Government’s current plans to remove protective mandates on July 19” and the nation was “at a very dangerous moment in the pandemic”.
He added: “The Government plan is not, as some have characterised it, a reasonable gamble – it is an entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted hazard that will cause real harm to health.”
A Department of Health & Social Care spokesperson said: A DHSC spokesperson said: “The success of the vaccine rollout is saving lives, having severely weakened the link between cases and hospitalisations.
“We have taken a cautious approach to proceeding with the roadmap, delaying Step 4 to allow for millions more vaccinations so every person most at risk is fully protected.
“Our approach after step 4 balances the need to protect both lives and livelihoods and we will only proceed on 19 July with our four tests having been met.”
In a press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “the pandemic is far from over and it will certainly not be over by 19th [July]” and added that “there could be 50,000 cases detected per day by the 19th”.
The latest data has shown that there had been a further 27,334 cases of Covid-19 as of 9am on Monday, while a further nine people had died within 28 days of testing positive.
However, he went ahead with announcements that signalled the end of all Covid-19 restrictions from 19 July.
Johnson said that the country will “move away from legal restrictions” and from Step 4 of the Covid lockdown exit plan, all legal limits on indoor and outdoor meetings would be lifted.
All businesses will be allowed to open from Step 4, including the likes of nightclubs, and the restricted number of attendees at events like concerts and sporting events will be lifted.
The one metre plus rule on social distancing and legal requirements to wear a face covering will also be scrapped.
Johnson said: “In these circumstances we must take a careful and balanced decision.
“And there is only one reason why we can contemplate going ahead to Step 4 - in circumstances where we’d normally be locking down further - and that’s because of the continuing effectiveness of the vaccine roll out.”
Johnson announced that, in regards to vaccinations, the dose interval between the two jabs for under 40s will be reduced from 12 weeks to eight, and said “everyone over 18 should be double jabbed by mid-September, in addition to our Autumn programme of booster vaccines for the most vulnerable”.
He added that there would also no longer be a government mandate that instructs people to work from home.
While his announcement focused on the restrictions that will be lifted, Johnson said that, from Step 4, the test, trace and isolate system will still be in place, with a legal requirement to self isolate if you test positive or are told to do so by the NHS.
Additional reporting by PA.
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