WORLD’S TOP SCIENTISTS RAGE AGAINST LOCKDOWN
As new curbs in UK loom, experts demand rethink
LIFE should be allowed to return to normal for all but the elderly and vulnerable, top scientists insisted yesterday.
More than 4,000 doctors and medical experts signed a global declaration stating ‘grave concerns’ about the response to coronavirus.
They warned that curbing regular activity was failing to control the pandemic yet doing ‘irreparable damage’ to health in other ways.
Led by top epidemiologists at Oxford, harvard and Stanford, the scientists called for a new tactic of ‘focused prevention’.
The elderly and vulnerable would be protected while the rest of society returned to normal to build herd immunity. Dozens of British academics were among those to endorse the approach last night.
The public declaration reveals a split in the scientific community about the best way to fight Covid.
And it comes amid fears swathes of the UK are about to be plunged back into lockdown-style restrictions following a rise in cases.
Another 14,542 were reported yesterday, almost 2,000 up in 24 hours and treble the total a fortnight ago. Daily hospital admissions rose by a quarter to 478 and
English hospitals now have 2,800 Covid patients, compared with 17,000 at the peak of the epidemic.
Fears of new restrictions have been fuelled by figures suggesting the virus is resurgent in northern cities, including Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham.
The increases have caused dismay in Downing Street and a Whitehall source said tougher measures could be imposed in parts of the North before the end of the week. Officials have also refused to rule out further national measures.
As a string of Tory MPs yesterday rebelled over the ‘rule of six’ regulations and Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned against further national lockdown measures:
■ Universities began cancelling faceto-face teaching entirely as they stepped up attempts to curb rising infection rates on campuses;
■ The leaders of four northern cities wrote to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to warn they were ‘extremely concerned about the sharp increase’ in cases;
■ However, they said they did not want draconian new measures and urged him to hand powers over restrictions to regional leaders;
■ Figures suggested the outbreaks in university cities were being strongly driven by students.
■ Reports claimed Mr Sunak was drawing up plans for Treasury support for firms worst hit by new local lockdowns;
■ Nicola Sturgeon is likely to announce ‘ circuit breaker’- style
‘Balances risks and benefits’
restrictions today despite denying Scotland was headed for another full lockdown;
■ The Royal College of Psychiatrists warned of a mental health crisis fuelled by the pandemic;
■ Industry chiefs warned that pubs, restaurants and other hospitality firms were preparing to axe more than half a million jobs;
■ Nearly one in five state secondary schools in England were unable to fully open their doors last week due to coronavirus.
The new pandemic approach – called the ‘ Great Barrington Declaration’ after the town in Massachusetts where it was written – is the brainchild of three leading scientists who have grown increasingly concerned about the impact of Covid restrictions.
Sunetra Gupta, an expert in infectious disease modelling at Oxford University, warned that the world has become ‘blinkered’ and ‘myopic’.
Professor Gupta wrote the document in the US over the weekend with Professor Martin Kulldorff of Harvard and Professor Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford.
They advocate allowing ‘herd immunity’ to build up among those who can best fight off the effects of coronavirus, while ensuring the most at risk are shielded.
Their declaration, posted online, had as of last night been signed by 2,300 medical doctors and 2,000 scientists working in the field of medicine and public health. More than 36,000 members of the public added their names.
‘Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short- and longterm public health,’ it warns.
‘The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden.
‘The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity.
‘Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low- risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.
‘Restaurants and other busisaid: nesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume.’
Professor David Livermore, a microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, who has signed the declaration, ‘ The collateral damage that lockdown causes is starting to outweigh the benefits.’
Boris Johnson and Mr Hancock remain convinced that limiting social interaction is still the best policy and insist they will not allow Covid to ‘let rip’ through society.
But they are under increasing pressure to reconsider, given the damage to the economy and health.
The Government’s own modelling suggests 74,000 people will die from non-Covid causes as an indirect result of the lockdown imposed in March.
Some scientists however, last night disagreed with the declaration.
Professor James Naismith of the University of Oxford said he would not sign, adding: ‘We do not know yet how long immunity will last, so achieving herd immunity may not be simple.’
Professor Jeremy Rossman of the University of Kent said: ‘The declaration focuses only on the risk of death from Covid-19 but ignores the growing awareness of long-Covid.
‘The proposed declaration is both unlikely to succeed and puts the long-term health of many at risk.’