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More than 100 scientists and doctors have signed a letter warning that the Government has embarked on a “dangerous and unethical experiment” in announcing it would sweep away most of the restrictions it imposed to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The letter, published in The Lancet , said it was “premature” to announce so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, and warned that cases of COVID would surge as a result.
The 122 signatories, who include Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser and chair of Independent Sage, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the council for the British Medical Association, and Dr Eric Topol, Medscape’s editor-in-chief, urged the Government to think again before confirming the loosening of restrictions.
Link Between Infection and Deaths ‘Not Broken’
They said that claims by ministers that vaccines had broken the link between infection with SARS-CoV-2 and mortality were flawed. “The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness,” the letter said.
“Population immunity is unlikely to be achieved without much higher levels of vaccination than can be reasonably expected” by the target date, according to the authors. As a result: “Proportionate mitigations will be needed to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated.”
The signatories expressed concern about the risks that lifting restrictions would have on cases of long COVID, in particular for the clinically vulnerable and for children and younger people, many of whom have not been vaccinated.
The letter noted that exponential growth of the virus would “likely continue until millions more are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands with long-term illness and disability”.
Dr Topol, who is founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Unit in the US, said: “The abrupt rise in UK Delta variant cases will not only engender more long COVID, but has also already resulted in more severe illness, with hospitalisations and deaths.
“Taking more time to further improve vaccination rates should help reduce the toll of this super spreader strain”.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist and senior lecturer at Queen Mary University, who organised the letter, said: “The Government has 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.”
The letter continued: “Allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create a reservoir of infection, which will probably accelerate spread when schools and universities re-open in [the] autumn.”
The authors also warned that current Government strategy risked creating a “fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants” of SARS-CoV-2.
Prof Trisha Greenhalgh from the University of Oxford described the letter as “a plea to our political leaders to listen to scientists”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care 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 4 to allow for millions more vaccinations so every person most at risk is fully protected.
“Our approach after step 4, balances the need to protect both lives and livelihoods and we will only proceed on 19 July with our four tests having been met.”
Créditos: Comité científico Covid