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‘Dangerous and unethical experiment’: UK Government urged not to drop restrictions

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

More than 100 scientists and doctors have signed a letter urging the UK Government to reconsider its plans to abandon all coronavirus restrictions.

The decision is “dangerous and premature”, 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.

The letter published in The Lancet comes after the UK Government announced that a range of coronavirus restrictions are due to be eased in England from July 19.

They warned that an exponential growth of the virus “will likely continue until millions more are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands with long-term illness and disability”.

Scientists also stressed the risk of long Covid to the wider population, especially those who were vulnerable, younger people and children, as well as people who were unvaccinated.

Long Covid risk

Aberdeenshire mum-of-one Helen Goss has been campaigning for specialist long Covid clinics to be established in Scotland.

Her eight-year-old daughter Anna Hendy is still suffering the daily effects of long Covid more than a year after contracting the virus.

The Westhill youngster has been too sick to attend school and has been learning online.

Helen Goss and eight-year-old daughter Anna Hendry. Supplied by Helen Goss 

Ms Goss, who is a trustee of the charity Long Covid Kids, said the UK Government’s plans are “hugely concerning”.

She added: “We’re going to see a huge amount more of long Covid which is going to put enormous pressure on the NHS when they’re already overwhelmed and have a huge backlog.

“At the moment as it stands kids are unvaccinated, they’re not protected so if we’re removing the mitigations that are in place, particularly in schools, such as masks, what protection have the kids got?

“They don’t have any.”

‘Self-inflicted wound’

Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said the UK is at a “very dangerous moment in this pandemic”.

Speaking during an online press conference on Thursday to launch the letter, he said: “If we continue with the plans, it will not be freedom that we win, it will be a self-inflicted wound of uncontrolled transmission of the Delta variant which the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge, let alone accept.

“With more cases of infection, more hospitalisations and more long Covid.”

He added that young people are “more likely to become sick than die of Covid-19”, with as many as one in 20 to one in 10 experiencing ongoing symptoms three months after a positive test.

Anna, eight, has been plagued by severe symptoms of long Covid after becoming ill last year – and has not been well enough to attend school.

With 100,000 infections a day, that means “10,000 people each day with long Covid”.

Speaking during a Covid-19 update on Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said  her job was “not to take the easy decisions in a quest for popularity”.

She has continued to express confidence that Scotland will still be able to move to Level 0 from July 19 but stressed many restrictions will still be in place – unlike the plans announced by the Prime Minister in England.

However, she will outline the next steps for relaxing restrictions in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

‘Nonsensical and dangerous’

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.

He added: “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.”

Rules on face coverings will be lifted south of the border on July 19.

Oxford University professor Trisha Greenhalgh described the letter as “a plea to our political leaders” to listen to scientists and claimed the world turned “its incredulous eyes on the UK Government as it announced plans to abandon all mandated measures to try to control spread of the virus”.

‘We have taken a cautious approach’

A Department of Health & Social Care 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 four to allow for millions more vaccinations so every person most at risk is fully protected.

“Our approach after step four balances the need to protect both lives and livelihoods and we will proceed on July 19 with our four tests having been met.”

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