Boris Johnson was under mounting pressure on Saturday to reconsider Monday’s relaxation of Covid rules in England due to the threat posed by the India variant. His own independent health advisers and experts expressed fear that it could lead to an increase in hospital admissions, especially among young adults.
Starting Monday, people will be able to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, while six people or two households will be able to meet indoors. Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers indoors. Indoor entertainment such as museums, cinemas, and children’s play areas may also open alongside theaters, concert halls, conference centers, and sports stadiums.
Overnight stays will be allowed. Weddings, receptions and other ceremonies may be held in groups of up to 30. An unlimited number of people may attend funerals.
But it is feared that the new Indian variant could unleash a third wave, just as the relaxation of the “big bang” approaches. Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the government task force on new and emerging viruses (Nervtag), said the relaxations would increase the number of those infected with the India variant and that younger unvaccinated adults would be the most exposed.
“Indoor mixing will almost certainly increase the transmission of the B.1.617.2 variant, but at this stage no one can be sure by how much,” he said.
Hayward added that many people would end up in hospital if, as feared, the variant proved to be 40% more transmissible than previous variants, particularly the Kent variant, which drove the second lethal wave over the winter. The government’s own Sage scientific advisory committee model has already said that the increase in transmissibility of the new variant could be as high as 50%.
“A 20% increase in transmissibility is not a big problem; [but] an increase of 40% would be a big problem and could lead to a considerable increase in hospitalizations. A large increase in hospitalizations would likely have consequences for routine health services and the backlog of care, ”warned Hayward.
Meanwhile, Professor Kit Yates, a member of the Independent Sage scientific expert committee, told the Observer that Johnson should delay Monday’s unlocking for fifteen days to allow more people to get vaccinated. Going forward, Yates said the prime minister would be failing one of the government’s four key tests, that the risk assessment is not changed with a new variant, which he had previously insisted would guide all decisions about when and whether. ease restrictions.
“At this point, the precautionary principle should take effect,” Yates said. “The more people we can vaccinate, the safer we will be. Even a couple of weeks at this point could make a huge difference to this seemingly more transmissible variant. A pause would also give us time to understand more about the properties of the variant, which would put us in a better position to plan what comes next. “
He added: “The rapid increases in B.1.617.2 and waves of hospitalizations predicted by the Sage model mean that the risk has fundamentally changed and the fourth test is not being met. The data suggesting a re-evaluation of the roadmap is there. “
Downing Street insisted that the relaxations would go ahead as planned. But Professor Martin McKee, another Independent Sage member, described the easing of the lockdown as a real risk: “The prime minister will make his own decision,” he said. “The scientific advice you are receiving is clear. Opening on Monday is a great risk and we know that we did not comply with the fourth of its tests to continue with the programmed roadmap ”, he said.
Emphasizing the dangers to younger adults, McKee added: “While a young person’s individual risk of contracting a serious illness is low, if a large number of people are infected, the absolute number of serious illnesses could be high”. A third wave of infection would also leave more people suffering from the debilitating effects of the prolonged Covid, which already has around 1.1 million Britons, McKee added.
On Saturday, Labor stepped up attacks on the government for failing to respond quickly enough to calls for increased vaccines in new Covid “hot spots,” including Bolton and Blackburn.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With health officials on the ground in Bolton and Blackburn pleading for intensive vaccines to be implemented, it is not believed that ministers are rejecting those calls, especially when the minutes of Sage seem to support a more comprehensive vaccination. It is urgent to contain the spread of this variant. We know from the Kent mutation how widespread a non-action variant can be. “
He also blamed the government for not having acted earlier to impose border controls. “The tragedy is that if Boris Johnson had put in place strong border controls, we could have prevented this. Instead, our borders have been like a sieve that threatens to push us back when we’ve come this far. “
But a government spokesman said: “We have some of the toughest border measures in the world. We took precautionary measures to ban travel from India on April 23, six days before this variant was investigated and two weeks before it was tagged as concerning. Since then, we have accelerated our vaccination program and improved local support to curb transmission. Before India was redlisted in April, anyone arriving in the UK had to test negative and self-quarantine for 10 days. “
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said: “I think it will lead to an increase in infections and that we are now entering the third wave.”
While the evidence for postponing Monday’s relaxation does not yet exist, “we can look back three weeks from now and think that step 3 was discouraged, although we may not.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism