“Opening on Monday is madness”: Scientists warn cases will rise as restrictions are lifted

“Who knows where we’ll be in six weeks' time, but it’s not going to be anywhere better than we are now," says Professor Christine Pagel.

A number of scientists have given stark warnings of how Covid cases will rise throughout the next few weeks following the lifting of restrictions on July 19.

The Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urged the public to “take things incredibly slowly” on Monday.

In an online seminar hosted by the Science Museum, Professor Whitty said the UK was “not by any means out of the woods yet.”

He said: “I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast. 

“I think saying the numbers in hospital are low now, that does not mean the numbers will be low in hospital in five, six, seven, eight weeks’ time. 

“We’ve still got 2,000 people in hospital and that number is increasing. If we double from 2,000 to 4,000 from 4,000 to 8,000, 8,000 and so on it doesn’t take many doubling times until you’re in very, very large numbers indeed.”

The Chief Medical Officer encouraged people to take precautions including reducing contact with others and improving ventilation.

He added: “We are in much better shape due to the vaccine programme, and drugs, and a variety of other things.

“But this has got a long way to run in the UK, and it’s got even further to run globally.”

Scientists at Independent Sage added their voices to the cautionary message.

In a briefing on Friday, Professor Christina Pagel, Director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London criticised the government’s plan to reopen.

She said: “Opening on Monday is madness. We shouldn’t be doing it.

“We’re having the wrong conversation – we should be talking about how to get cases down now.

“Who knows where we’ll be in six weeks’ time, but it’s not going to be anywhere better than we are now.”

Dr Kit Yates warned that the vaccine had not put a complete stop to hospitalisations.

He said: “Of course, the link has been weakened, but it hasn’t been broken.

“If you look at new hospitalisations in England up until a couple of days ago, you can see that ever since the beginning of May there have been rises in hospital admissions.

“Those admissions have started to accelerate, reflecting the acceleration in cases.”

Dr Yates said that as well as not preventing hospitalisations, the vaccine had not allowed the UK population to reach herd immunity.

He said: “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and vaccinate as many people as possible because the more people are vaccinated the easier it becomes to slow the spread down, the easier it becomes to control the spread with non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask wearing like find test trace and isolate.

“It’s not a hopeless message but we aren’t going to achieve herd immunity in the way we might have hoped with a variant that was less transmissible.”

Alexandra Warren is a freelance journalist.

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