Boris Johnson’s government has been urged to urgently reconsider its plan to end Covid restrictions in England on Monday, as international scientists warned that the move poses a “danger to the world”.
More than 1,200 scientists from around the globe have condemned the prime minister’s decision to forge ahead with so-called Freedom Day on 19 July, describing it as “unscientific and unethical”.
Some of the experts convened an emergency summit on Friday – warning that the UK government’s policy of ending legal curbs on social distancing and masks amounted to “herd immunity by mass infection”.
Official government advisors to New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Italy all sounded alarm at the UK government’s strategy.
The group of scientists – who all signed the recent letter to The Lancet warning against the reopening – fear next week’s re-opening in England will allow the Delta variant to spread rapidly around the world.
Professor Michael Baker, a member of the New Zealand government’s Covid advisory group said his colleagues were “amazed” and “astounded” that the UK had decided to lift curbs when transmission of the virus was rising so rapidly in the country.
Prof Baker claimed the UK had started the pandemic “with an approach of herd immunity … rapidly identified as unacceptable”. He added: “It seems now, strangely, that the UK is going back to that approach.”
The international experts were joined by some of the scientists from the UK’s Independent Sage group, which has urged Downing Street to rethink the end of restrictions.
Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage panel, said: “Because of our position of a global travel hub any variant that becomes dominant in the UK will likely spread to the rest of the world.”
She added: “We saw it with Alpha variant. I’m absolutely sure that we have contributed to the rise of the Delta variant in north America and Europe. UK [government] policy doesn’t just affect us – it affects everybody.”
It comes as Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, conceded that the number of people in hospital with Covid in the UK is currently doubling about every three weeks and could reach “quite scary numbers” soon.
Speaking on Thursday evening, Prof Whitty said: “I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast.”
Prof Whitty has said there is “no clear evidence” that delaying the next step of England’s road map out lockdown would make a difference in reducing the spread of Covid transmission.
But Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton said Prof Whitty was “wilfully misrepresenting scientific opinion” with claims that there was widespread support for the prime minister’s approach.
Boris Johnson’s Covid policy poses ‘danger to the world’, international scientists warn