UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Prime Minister Questions at the House of Parliament on July 7, 2021 in London, England.
Chris J. Ratcliffe | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON – Global scientists have criticized the UK government’s plans to relax almost all Covid-19 restrictions, calling them unethical and dangerous for the entire planet.
At a virtual summit on Friday, leading academics and government advisers from around the world warned the UK was headed for disaster by lifting most of its remaining restrictions on Monday.
The event came when more than 1,200 scientists backed a letter to the medical journal Lancet describing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans as “dangerous and premature”.
In England, most of the last remaining restrictions, including mandatory mask wear and social distancing, will be lifted on Monday in what will be an “irreversible” move, according to Johnson.
Johnson has fiercely defended his new strategy, arguing that now is “the time to move on” before the weather got colder and “the natural firebreak of school holidays” approached.
“It is absolutely important that we proceed with caution now … we cannot just return to life immediately from Monday as before Covid,” he said at a press conference on Monday.
Christina Pagel, Director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at London’s UCL, warned at the panel on Friday that there was potential for a new variant of Covid this summer.
“Any mutation that can infect vaccinated people better has a great selective advantage and can spread,” she said. “And because of our position as a global travel hub, any variant that becomes dominant in the UK is likely to spread to the rest of the world – we’ve seen it at Alpha, and I’m absolutely certain we have contributed to the rise of Delta through Europe and North America. “
“British politics are not just about us, they are about everyone – everyone has an interest in what we do,” she added.
Clinical epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani, who also attended the summit, agreed and said ahead of the event on Twitter that “the world is watching the current UK avoidable crisis unfold”.
Michael Baker, professor of public health and a member of the New Zealand Department of Health advisory group, said he was “amazed” at the UK government’s plans to lift almost all restrictions on Monday.
Baker suggested that the UK government appeared to be reverting to a “herd immunity approach” which he described as “totally unacceptable”, arguing that the strategy “failed miserably around the globe”.
New Zealand is widely viewed as successful in suppressing the coronavirus within its borders, and life on the island nation has returned to a state of relative normalcy. The country currently has 48 “active” cases, all of which have been found in immigrants, nine of which have been reported in the past 24 hours. According to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, there are zero cases in the community.
William Haseltine, a US virologist and chairman and president of ACCESS Health International, told the panel at the summit on Friday that the world “has always looked for great, sensible policies in the UK”.
“Unfortunately, that was not the case with the Covid pandemic,” he said. “What I fear is that some of the worst stimuli in many of our states will follow Britain’s lead.”
Haseltine criticized so-called herd immunity strategies – which allow populations to build natural immunity to a disease by being exposed to it – as “murderous”.
“I think that’s a word we should use because it is. It is the knowledge that you are doing something that results in thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands, of people, ”he said.
“It is a disaster as a policy, it is clear that this has been the case for some time, and to continue with this policy is unscrupulous.”
Jose M Martin-Moreno, Professor of Public Health at the University of Valencia in Spain, echoed Haseltine’s concerns about other parts of the world, along the lines of the UK.
“We cannot understand why this is happening, despite the knowledge (the UK) has,” he said, warning that other countries may begin to “mimick” British policies.
“If we remove the tools that contain the transmission – that’s it,” he added.
“Everyone is affected”
Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex Systems Institute and founder of the World Health Network, said that now is the time for governments to act – but in the opposite direction of UK lawmakers.
“Opening up while the pandemic is still spreading doesn’t make sense to protect the public,” he said. “Everyone will be affected once the pandemic gets out of hand.”
Meanwhile, Shu-Ti Chiou, founding president of the Taiwan Health and Sustainable Development Foundation, said it was unethical to “take away umbrellas without a raincoat while it is raining heavily.” She also raised concerns that children who cannot be vaccinated would be “left behind” due to the high prevalence of “long covid” among young people.
However, there were also warnings that even those who were fully vaccinated would feel the effects of the high transmission rates.
Meir Rubin, an attorney who advises the Israeli government on risk management, warned that “even the best vaccines are only a tactic, not a strategy”.
In one region of Israel, more than 80% of the population had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, but there was still a “severe outbreak” of Covid. Rubin told the panel that without eliminating the virus, even a vaccinated population “could collapse under the next variant.”
“An infectious carrier of the Delta variant will infect their family even if they are fully vaccinated. If you live with a child who is a Delta carrier, they will infect the parents, ”he said, adding that Israel has seen severe cases and hospitalizations even with fully vaccinated patients.
Haseltine also noted that vaccines alone would not bring an end to the pandemic.
“Even if you are fully vaccinated, you must make serious efforts and controls to try to correct the problem, not just to alleviate it. A policy that opens up the country in the midst of a growing wave of infections is counterproductive in extreme cases, ”he warned.