England’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’ is a threat to the world according to international health experts who are worried the country will become a petri-dish for new variants of coronavirus that will spread around the globe.
Boris Johnson’s plan to lift almost all of the Covid restrictions in England on Monday (July 19) is alarming government advisors in New Zealand, Israel, Italy and beyond who have expressed “grave concerns” about the prime minister’s “dangerous and unethical experiment”.
The UK’s position as a global transport hub means any variant emerging here could be quickly exported around the world – including potentially vaccine resistant variants of the virus – and the Guardian reports 1,200 scientists have backed the warning in a letter to the Lancet journal.
WHO advisor says UK ‘government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment’
“We cannot understand why this [lockdown lifting in England] is happening in spite of the scientific knowledge that you have,” said Prof José Martin-Moreno, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The letter to the Lancet states: “We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.”
At an emergency summit of scientists and clinicians , the director of University College London’s clinical operational research unit, Prof Christina Pagel, said: “Because of our position as a global travel hub, any variant that becomes dominant in the UK will likely spread to the rest of the globe. The UK policy doesn’t just affect us. It affects everybody and everybody has a stake in what we do.”
Whitty warns England could be plunged back into lockdown in weeks
Despite Johnson’s assurances that the government is lifting lockdown in a “cautious but irreversible” way, England’s chief medical officer (CMO) Chris Whitty, has warned the country could be plunged back into lockdown in a matter of weeks.
Whitty said a potential “scary” growth in hospitalisations could leave the NHS “in trouble again surprisingly fast”, telling an event at the British Science Museum that pandemics are “either doubling or halving”.
“And currently this epidemic is doubling,” said the CMO. “It’s doubling in cases. It is also doubling in people going to hospital, and it’s doubling in deaths.”
Hospitalisations are “mercifully much lower” for now, said Whitty, but the numbers are “not trivial”, adding: “If we double from 2,000 to 4,000, from 4,000 to 8,000, to 8,000 and so on, it doesn’t take many doubling times till you’re into very very large numbers indeed.”
The latest figures from Test and Trace for the week to July 7 show 194,005 people testing positive for Covid-19 in England – a 43% rise in just a week and the biggest number since January.
Summer emergence of the winter vomiting virus ‘is frankly very worrying’
Adding to concerns of the strain on the NHS is the summer emergence of the winter vomiting virus with cases of the highly infectious norovirus on the rise in England.
In the past five weeks 154 outbreaks have been reported in England, with a concentration in nurseries and childcare facilities.
The average number of outbreaks for the same period in the past five years is 53.
Public Health England (PHE) said “it is possible that unusual or out-of-season increases could be seen in the coming months following further easing of Covid-19 control measures”.
Current immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine Dr Nick Steven expressed his concern about the combination of lifting Covid restrictions with the NHS “under great strain”, adding: “This has been compounded today [July 16] by the warning that cases of norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug, have now reached pre-pandemic levels in summer.
“Considering the impact this has when it makes its way into hospitals – bed closures, infecting seriously unwell people and staff absence – it is frankly very worrying.
“At the moment, clinicians across the country are asking themselves exactly what the government is thinking given the fact healthcare is being ravaged.”