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A threat to the whole world

International scientists demand Johnson reconsider ‘reckless’ decision to end Covid-19 restrictions

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

INTERNATIONAL scientists have demanded PM Boris Johnson urgently reconsider his “reckless” decision to end Covid-19 restrictions in England on Monday, warning it poses a “danger to the world.”

Official government advisers from countries including New Zealand, Taiwan and Italy joined scientists from the Independent Sage advisory group at today’s virtual event to slam the policy as amounting to “murderous herd immunity by mass infection.”

The experts, among 1,400 who recently signed a letter to the Lancet medical journal warning against the reopening, pointed out it would allow the Delta variant and any new strains to spread rapidly around the globe due to the country’s role as an international travel hub.

The meeting, organised by the authors of the Lancet letter and not-for-profit media group The Citizens, comes as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty conceded that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus could reach “quite scary numbers” soon.

The third wave of the pandemic, driven by the more infectious Delta variant, is surging in England with more than 50,000 cases reported today, the highest figures since mid-January. 

Hospitalisations and deaths are doubling every two weeks, yet the Prime Minister is removing almost all mandatory protections next week, including wearing face masks in enclosed public spaces, social distancing requirements, and any limits on indoor or outdoor mixing.

Public health adviser to New Zealand’s Labour government Professor Michael Baker said: “We’ve always looked to the UK for leadership.

“You have a remarkable depth of scientific knowledge. You’ve done remarkably well in vaccine development and rollout. Remarkable clinical trials that we’re drawing on.

“And that’s why it just seems so remarkable that you’re not following even basic public health principles here.”

The country is one of several in Australasia and south-east Asia to take a zero-Covid approach to the crisis, with short, sharp lockdowns largely suppressing community transmission of the deadly virus.

According to Johns Hopkins University, New Zealand has recorded less than 3,000 cases of Covid-19 and only 26 deaths.

This stands in stark contrast to Britain’s figures, where about 150,000 of the more than five million people infected have tragically died.

Professor Shu-Ti Chiou, former director-general of Taiwan’s Health Promotion Administration, stressed she is “very concerned” about the millions in Britain yet to be vaccinated, as well as the poorly understood effects of “long Covid” postviral health problems.

She told the meeting: “In our culture there is a saying that it is unethical to take the umbrella away from people while it’s still raining, and now it’s politically unethical to take the umbrella away from persons not having a raincoat when it's still raining.

“And it’s actually raining very hard. So I hope the politicians can take that into consideration, to keep the umbrella there for those people not having a raincoat.”

Australia’s ex-Health Department secretary Dr Stephen Duckett claimed no reputable public health adviser would recommend opening up at a time when the virus is spreading exponentially.

It comes after Lancet editor Richard Horton said on Thursday that Prof Whitty’s claim there is widespread scientific support for the PM’s policy was “willifully misrepresenting” expert opinion. 

“It just defies any logic, any science of any kind, to [say] 40,000, 50,000, 80,000 cases a day is somehow acceptable,” Dr Duckett remarked. 

“There is no trade-off between public health and economics; the right decisions from a public health perspective are the right decisions for the economy.

“What they're doing is both stupid in public health terms and stupid in economic terms.”

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