Boris Johnson is set to lift Covid restrictions across England on Monday despite Downing Street last night conceding concerns over rapidly rising case numbers as more than 1,200 international scientists and health experts urged the government to scrap the “dangerous experiment” of “freedom day”.
New daily infections in the UK broke the 50,000 threshold on Friday for the first time since mid-January and official figures showed one in 95 people in England are estimated to have the virus – more than quadruple the rate in the middle of June when the prime minister set 19 July for lifting most of the country’s last infection control measures.
Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said on Thursday that restrictions may need to be reimposed in as little as five weeks, before the end of the summer holidays.
Manufacturers have also warned staff shortages “escalated significantly” this week with Stephen Phipson, chief executive of trade body Make UK, warning of:
“More and more companies being affected by isolation, with not just an impact on production but a hit to actual shipments of goods going overseas”.
Contingency plans which outline “reimposing economic and social restrictions at a local, regional or national level if evidence suggests they are necessary to suppress or manage a dangerous variant”, are available, the Downing Street source said, but these would only be used as a “last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on the NHS” [Note: but not human suffering or Long Covid], which it is not currently facing.
Infection rates have risen so fast they are about to outrun the number of first vaccinations being administered in England. The number of first jabs delivered daily is close to plateauing at about 50,000 a day.
An alliance of 1,200 health experts endorsed a letter to the Lancet journal that demanded the government halts its plan altogether.
They warned the strategy:
“Provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants”, putting the UK and the rest of the world at risk.
At an emergency summit, government advisers in Israel, New Zealand and Italy were among those who sounded alarm bells about the policy.
Michael Baker, a professor of public health at the University of Otago, who advises the New Zealand government on Covid, said it was:
“Remarkable that [the UK] is not following even basic public health principles”.
The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group described the government’s plan to press ahead with unlocking as “deeply unsettling”.
Jo Goodman, co-founder of the group said: “The overwhelming scientific consensus is that lifting restrictions on Monday will be disastrous, and bereaved families know first-hand how tragic the consequences of unlocking too early can be.
“There is a real fear that once again the government’s thinking is being driven by what’s popular rather than the interests of the country.”