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Researchers blast reopening plans as ‘dangerous experiment’


Letter calls on UK government to rethink end of restrictions on 19 July

Over 100 scientists have accused the UK government of conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” with its plans to end Covid-19 restrictions, in a major escalation of the row over the lifting of lockdown measures.

In a letter published in The Lancet on 8 July, more than 100 scientists and doctors from around the world tell the government that it must rethink its decision to end restrictions on 19 July, describing the step as “dangerous and premature”.

Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson announced an end to social distancing, to limits on gatherings and to mandatory use of facemasks in England as part of the final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. These restrictions are all expected to end on 19 July, subject to a final review on 12 July.

But David King, former chief scientific adviser and chair of the Independent Sage advisory group, together with British Medical Association council chair Chaand Nagpaul and other signatories, say that population immunity is unlikely to be achieved by then.

They warn that restrictions will still be needed to avoid “hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated”.

Long-term fears

The authors of the letter highlight the risk of long Covid to the wider population, particularly to young people and children, who are currently unvaccinated. They fear that long-term problems from infections could leave “hundreds of thousands” struggling with illness and disability.

The letter was organised by Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London, who said the government had made a “deliberate choice to expose children to mass infection, rather than protect them in schools or vaccinate them”.

“This is unethical and unacceptable. Our young have already suffered so much in the past year and are now being condemned to suffer the consequences of this dangerous experiment,” she said.

Gurdasani and colleagues want the government to maintain some restrictions—such as mask-wearing—until a high proportion of adults and adolescents have been vaccinated.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the government had already delayed what it calls ‘step four’—the final lifting of restrictions.

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

The four tests are successful vaccine deployment, vaccines reducing hospitalisations and deaths, the NHS not being overwhelmed, and no major new variants of the virus emerging.