UK’s plan to remove Covid restrictions threat to world, warn 1,200 scientists

UK Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s plan to lift almost all restrictions from Monday amid a raging pandemic is a threat to the world and could lead to the emergence of deadly variants capable of evading vaccine-induced immunity, international experts have warned. Speaking at an emergency summit, scientists and physicians raised concern over the UK’s decision to kick off the final phase of the four-step roadmap out of lockdown while the country is witnessing a worrying surge in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases, largely driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.

Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary University, expressed shock at Boris Johnson’s statement that suggested proceeding with the reopening. Gurdasani said that the government is implicitly accepting that the National Health Service (NHS) will come under immense pressure with thousands of hospitalisations and around 100-200 deaths per day during the peak of the pandemic.

“We only have 51% of our population now fully vaccinated. Opening up at this point in time, fully acknowledging that a delay in the plan by four weeks stage 3 allowed us to vaccinate many more people, makes absolutely no sense,” said Gurdasani, adding that millions of people will get infected and hundreds of thousands will get Long Covid.

Government advisers from around the world sounded alarm bells about the reopening plan, saying any variant that becomes dominant in the UK will likely spread in the rest of the world, given the country’s position as a global travel hub. “The UK policy doesn’t just affect us. It affects everybody and everybody has a stake in what we do,” Christina Pagel, the director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, told the virtual meeting.

The experts wondered why the UK government was not following even basic public health principles. “We cannot understand why this is happening in spite of the scientific knowledge that you have,” said José Martin-Moreno of the University of Valencia, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The summit meeting was held after hundreds of scientists, doctors, nurses and other professionals signed a letter published in The Lancet medical journal, condemning the government’s “dangerous and unethical experiment.” The letter has now been signed by more than 1,200 scientists.

On Thursday, the UK reported more than 48,000 Covid-19 cases, the highest in six months.