Don’t ‘Scamper Down a Rabbit Hole’ Every Time a New Variant Emerges, UK Govt Scientist Says

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 29: A demonstrator poses with a placard in Hyde Park after a "United
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The United Kingdom should not “scamper down a rabbit hole” every time a new coronavirus variant emerges, said a leading science advisor to the British government, who called for a more “balanced” approach to the Chinese virus.

Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, Sir John Bell, waded into the debate on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should follow through on fully returning freedoms to the British public after over a year of lockdown restrictions.

Sir John, who serves on the government’s vaccine task force, told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday that he is “encouraged” by the latest data. He went on to say that after the UK recorded zero coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the “numbers don’t look too intimidating”.

“I do think we need to keep our eye on hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths which is really what we are trying to manage,” he said.

“If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant we are going to spend a long time huddled away so we do need to keep a bit of balance to the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease that we are trying to prevent,” Sir John concluded.

While deaths have dropped precipitously following the peak of the second wave of the virus in January — with many pointing to the UK’s vaccination programme — segments of the scientific establishment have been pushing the notion of a possible third wave as justification for continuing lockdown restrictions passed the June 21st “freedom day”.

Speaking to reporters at a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he has seen “nothing in the data” to suggest that the planned end date for coronavirus lockdown restrictions should not go ahead.

“I can see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step four of the opening on 21 June,” Johnson said.

The British leader did caution that a final decision on the freedom day has not been made and that the government needs to be “cautious” because of a rise of infections amid the so-called Indian variant.

“What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us — particularly the elderly and vulnerable — against a new surge.

“There, I’m afraid, the data is just still ambiguous and so every day we’re having long sessions where we’re interrogating all the data, we’re looking at all the various models and the best the scientists can say at the moment, in their guidance to us, is that we just need to give it a little bit longer.”

Mr Johnson has seen growing pressure from within his own party to follow through on the plan to reopen the country fully, including from former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

Sir Iain warned Mr Johnson not to be too reliant on the advice of his scientific advisors, saying: “What we have got now is a bunch of scientists obsessed, obsessed with one single issue to the detriment of absolutely everything else.”

On Tuesday evening, Brexit leader Nigel Farage also urged Johnson to push ahead, writing on social media that there were “zero Covid deaths in the UK today. Yes, zero. But the experts and the scientists want to stop freedom day on June 21st.”

“We are at the point where people will not obey,” Mr Farage warned.

Business leaders have also expressed their concerns that a delay could massively impact firms that had made plans based upon the prime minister’s roadmap to freedom.

The UK Weddings Taskforce said that 50,000 ceremonies are planned for the month following the June 21st reopening date, and if restrictions on gatherings are left in place, it could cost the sector hundreds of millions of pounds.

Weddings Taskforce representative Sarah Haywood said that if the government extends the lockdown it would have to explain “how much longer and for what”.

“It’s preposterous for the government to suggest that the wedding sector can’t be trusted to work in a Covid-secure way,” she added.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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