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The UK’s decision to reopen by the end of this week has been called “dangerous and unethical” by a prominent medical journal.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week set out plans to end social and economic Covid-19 restrictions in England, a test of whether a rapid vaccine rollout offers enough protection from the highly contagious Delta variant.
He said the step would eliminate formal limits on social contact, the instruction to work from home and mandates to wear face masks.
After imposing the most onerous constraints on behaviour in the UK's peacetime history to battle the novel coronavirus, Mr Johnson is betting the vaccination program — which has weakened the link between infections and hospital admissions — can prevent the health service being overwhelmed by a new wave of Covid-19.
UK scraps restrictions and allows people to make own decisions
Under the plans, nightclubs will be allowed to reopen and there will be no limits on capacity for hospitality venues.
Physical distancing guidelines will be scrapped.
"We must be honest with ourselves that if we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal?" Mr Johnson told a news conference.
"We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus."
Mr Johnson's government sets health policy for England but not for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
The UK has suffered the seventh highest global death toll from Covid-19 and Mr Johnson has been accused of being too slow to implement each of England's three lockdowns.
The 'dangerous and premature' reopening
An article recently published in medical journal The Lancet has called the decision to reopen “dangerous and premature” claiming vaccination levels are not high enough.
“Proportionate mitigations will be needed to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated,” researchers wrote.
“Nevertheless, the UK Government's intention to ease restrictions from July 19, 2021, means that immunity will be achieved by vaccination for some people but by natural infection for others (predominantly the young).
“The UK Health Secretary has stated that daily cases could reach 100, 000 per day over the summer months of 2021.”
Cases and hospital data for 9 July 2021 (Averages for the week compared to the previous week - last public hospital data before Monday's decision)
** HOSPITALIZATIONS +58.5% **
ICU (MV/HDU) beds occupied has doubled in the last 22 days
It's not looking good. pic.twitter.com/74dyYAzbhS
— Dr Duncan Robertson (@Dr_D_Robertson) July 9, 2021
Five major concerns about opening up UK
Authors of the article listed “five main concerns” about reopening.
Among them include angst about the younger population — particularly in schoolchildren which could lead to “significant educational disruption”.
The authors were also concerned the strategy provides “fertile ground” for variants of the virus immune to vaccinations and the “significant impact” it could have on health services.
“These policies will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities,” researchers wrote.
“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.”
Researchers called for a delay until everyone has been offered vaccination and “uptake is high”.
“This will ensure that everyone is protected and make it much less likely that we will need further restrictions or lockdowns in the autumn,” they wrote.
Mr Johnson said that while he believed this was the best time to end restrictions, people should still be cautious and that containment measures could be brought back if needed.
"I didn't want people to feel that this is, as it were, the moment to get demob happy... it is very far from the end of dealing with this virus," Johnson said.
"Obviously, if we do find another variant that doesn't respond to the vaccines ... then clearly, we will have to take whatever steps we need to do to protect the public."
The PM is set to confirm the plans on Monday (local time).
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