SAGE scientist slams Javid's 'frightening' plans to scrap lockdown

SAGE scientist slams Javid's 'frightening' plans to scrap lockdown

07/04/2021

SAGE versus Sajid: Doom-monger scientist lashes new Health Secretary’s ‘frightening’ plans to scrap lockdown by July 19 and treat Covid ‘like the flu’ – despite more than HALF Britons now being double-vaccinated

  • SAGE psychologist Stephen Reicher lashed out at Sajid Javid’s ‘frightening’ plan to ditch lockdown by July 19
  • St Andrews professor wrote on Twitter: ‘It is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who thinks Covid is flu’
  • Mr Javid called the health reasons for lifting all coronavirus restrictions in two weeks ‘compelling’
  • Writing in Mail on Sunday, the new Health Secretary says UK is ‘on track’ to escape every vestige of lockdown 

A SAGE psychologist has lashed out at Sajid Javid’s ‘frightening’ plan to scrap lockdown by July 19 despite more than half of adults in England having received both vaccines – after the new Health Secretary urged people to live with coronavirus ‘as we already do with flu’.  

Professor Stephen Reicher, who has been advising the Government on its response to the pandemic, wrote on Twitter today: ‘It is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who still thinks Covid is flu, who is unconcerned at levels of infection, who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy, who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated.

‘Above all, it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is ‘this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept”.

The Department of Health has been approached for comment. 

The broadside from the University of St Andrews academic comes after Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock last weekend after the former Health Secretary was caught flouting lockdown with his mistress, called the health reasons for lifting restrictions ‘compelling’.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the new Health Secretary says the UK is ‘on track’ to escape almost every vestige of lockdown on July 19, adding: ‘We will have a country that is not just freer, but healthier, too.’

But he makes no secret of the challenges he faces as Health Secretary, admitting that he has ‘the biggest in-tray I’ve had at any department – and I’ve run five’. 

In a further shift in tone in messaging after Mr Hancock sensationally quit government and ditched his wife of 15 years, Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick today announced that wearing face masks will no longer be compulsory after the so-called Freedom Day later this month.   

The Housing Secretary said the latest coronavirus data is ‘very positive’ as Boris Johnson prepares for the final stage in his lockdown exit roadmap. Speaking to Sky News, he said ‘the state won’t be telling you what to do’ after rules are eased and there will be a shift in emphasis towards ‘personal choice’ and judgement.  

The Prime Minister is preparing to announce a raft of measures to come into force from July 19 which will ‘make Britain the most open country in Europe’. 

The Mail on Sunday can reveal that under plans expected to be signed off by the Cabinet tomorrow: 

  • The Prime Minister is ‘determined’ that fully vaccinated Britons will be able to travel to amber-list countries including Spain and Greece without having to self-isolate when they return;
  • Wearing face masks will become voluntary everywhere – including on public transport – with the exception of hospitals and other healthcare settings; 
  • Those who have received two doses of a vaccine will not be required to self-isolate or take Covid-19 tests if they are alerted that they have come into contact with someone with the virus – but tests will still be available for all those who want them; 
  • The school ‘bubbles’ system that has seen hundreds of thousands of pupils being forced to self-isolate at home will be axed and replaced with daily testing; 
  • Restaurants, pubs and shops will no longer have to demand that customers provide their personal data or sign in with a ‘QR’ code. 


SAGE psychologist Professor Stephen Reicher (left) lashed out at ‘frightening’ Sajid Javid’s ‘bonkers’ plan to ditch all lockdown measures by July 19 after the new Health Secretary (right) called the health case for scrapping restrictions ‘compelling’ and urged people to live with coronavirus ‘as we already do with flu’

Professor Reicher wrote on Twitter today: ‘It is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who still thinks Covid is flu, who is unconcerned at levels of infection, who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy, who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated’

More than half of English residents have now had both coronavirus vaccines as daily cases rise by 161 per cent in a fortnight

Scanning QR codes before entering venues like pubs and restaurants ‘will be scrapped from July 19’ as ministers push to lift restrictions for Freedom Day 

Britons will no longer have to scan a QR code every time they enter a bar or a restaurant when coronavirus restrictions end on July 19, it has been reported.

At the moment, people have to scan in their details or fill in a form at venues so they can be traced in case they come into contact with someone with Covid-19.

But it is believed Boris Johnson will scrap the need to give over details as part of the huge lifting of restrictions set to come in in two weeks time.

The Prime Minister will announce plans to drop social distancing rules and bin proposals for a domestic Covid-19 passport this week, the Sunday Times reports.

As part of the easing, wearing face masks will become voluntary everywhere apart from hospitals and similar settings, and work from home guidance will also be scrapped.

Mass events, including festivals, will also be allowed under the proposals for the final stage of the road map out of lockdown, the paper also said.

And hospitality venues will no longer be required to collect track and trace data, and drinkers will also be able to order at the bar. 

Setting out his priorities in a column for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid writes: ‘The first is how we restore our freedoms and learn to live with Covid-19. The second is to tackle the NHS backlog – something that we know is going to get far worse before it gets better.

‘We are on track for July 19 and we have to be honest with people about the fact that we cannot eliminate Covid. We also need to be clear that cases are going to rise significantly… But no date we choose will ever come without risk, so we have to take a broad and balanced view.’

Mr Javid says an estimated seven million fewer people than normal approached the NHS for treatment during the pandemic.

He added: ‘The steps we took saved countless lives but also led to the build-up of a vast elective backlog – checks, appointments and treatments for all the less urgent, but often just as important, health issues.’

Figures released in April showed the number of people waiting for hospital treatment in England exceeded 5 million for the first time since records began in 2007, prompting the Royal College of Surgeons to call for specialist hubs to carry out delayed routine operations such as knee and hip replacements.

Mr Javid – who quit as Chancellor last year after clashing with No 10 aide Dominic Cummings – also acknowledges that lockdown has ’caused a shocking rise in domestic violence and a terrible impact on so many people’s mental health’.

Senior sources said that Mr Javid has ushered in a new approach towards handling the pandemic, following Mr Hancock’s strong support for lockdown and coronavirus restrictions. ‘Sajid has pushed down on the accelerator,’ said one.

Mr Jenrick told Sky News this morning that the nation is ‘now reaching a different phase in the virus’. 

‘We are not going to put the Covid-19 virus behind us forever, we are going to have to learn to live with it,’ he said. 

‘But thanks to the enormous success of our vaccine programme the fact that now we have got to the point where 83 per cent of adults in this country have had at least one jab, we should be able to think about how we can return to normality as much as possible.

‘The data that we are seeing that the Prime Minister is reviewing at the moment ahead of his decision point on the road map looks very positive.

‘It does seem as if we can now move forward and move to a much more permissive regime where we move away from many of those restrictions that have been so difficult for us and learn to live with the virus.

‘That does mean that we are going to have to treat it carefully, we are going to have to keep on monitoring the cases and we are going to have to ensure that every adult gets double-vaxxed because that is the key to keeping the virus under control as we move into the autumn and the winter.’

Some scientific experts have called for the rules on wearing face masks in shops and on public transport to be retained.  But Mr Jenrick said wearing face coverings will be made a matter of choice and personal responsibility. 

He said: ‘Like many people I want to get away from these restrictions as quickly as I possibly can and we don’t want them to stay in place for a day longer than is necessary. 

‘We are going to, I think, now move into a period where there won’t be legal restrictions, the state won’t be telling you what to do, but you will want to exercise a degree of personal responsibility and judgement. So different people will come to different conclusions on things like masks for example.’

Asked directly if he will ditch his mask should he be permitted to do so, the Housing Secretary said: ‘I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it. We will be moving into a phase where these will be matters of personal choice and so some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons.

‘But it will be a different period where we as private citizens make these judgements rather than the Government telling you what to do.’

It comes as  more than half of English residents have now had both coronavirus vaccines as daily cases rise by 161 per cent in a fortnight. A total of 66,220,122 Covid-19 vaccinations had taken place between December 8 and July 3, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses.

NHS England said 37,981,485 were first doses, a rise of 121,588 on the previous day, while 28,238,637 were second doses, an increase of 165,665. On Sunday, 137,389 first dose Covid vaccinations and 196,209 second doses were administered.

The positive vaccination figures come amid a sharp rise in daily cases. As of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 24,248 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, the Government said.

The figure is the highest in 24 hours reported since late January. It is a rise of 63 percent on last Sunday and 161 per cent compared to a fortnight ago. The Government said 15 more people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday.

While the number of daily deaths remains low, the figure is a 25 per cent increase on last Sunday’s total.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 153,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

Setting out his priorities in a column for the Mail on Sunday, Mr Javid writes: ‘The first is how we restore our freedoms and learn to live with Covid-19. The second is to tackle the NHS backlog – something that we know is going to get far worse before it gets better’ 

On Sunday, Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said that after July 19, the wearing of face masks will become a personal choice

More than half of English residents have now had both coronavirus vaccines as daily cases rise by 161 per cent in a fortnight. Pictured: A man receives a vaccine in Doncaster on June 27

It follows reports that Mr Javid has ruled out Tory peer Dido Harding, the former head of NHS Test and Trace, as the next chief executive of NHS England. 

A senior Government source told The Times last night that while she deserved ‘credit’ for building the Covid-19 testing programme, ‘people don’t think she is the right person to lead the NHS as we enter a new phase’.

The decision to reject her candidacy is one of Mr Javid’s first major decisions since he took over as Health Secretary. The news comes after well-placed sources said that Amanda Pritchard, the chief operating officer of the NHS, is in prime position to take over from Sir Simon Stevens.

One insider described her as ‘very highly rated’ and said a ‘two-horse race’ between her and Baroness Harding has now just left her in the running.

The former chief executive of TalkTalk had vowed to use her private sector experience, along with her existing links with ministers, if she were to get the NHS role.

There were also fears that her stewardship of the £37billion Test and Trace system would create future political problems for the Government. It was branded the ‘most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time’ by the former head of the Treasury. 

The decision over who will be appointed is expected shortly as Sir Simon has ruled out staying in the job beyond the end of July after his seven-year tenure.

Ms Pritchard, previously chief executive of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, is said to have impressed Ministers as efficient and highly capable. She has a much lower profile than either Lady Harding or Sir Simon, although it is understood this is seen as a positive attribute.

A source said: ‘She is almost the anti-Simon Stevens. She is the person who delivers quietly rather than making a big song and dance about it.’


Sajid Javid has ruled out Tory peer Dido Harding as the next chief executive of NHS England, according to reports. The news comes after well-placed sources said that Amanda Pritchard, the chief operating officer of the NHS, is in prime position to take over from Sir Simon Stevens

Vaccination Nurse Lorraine Mooney gives a vaccination to a member of the public outside a bus in the car park of Crieff Community Hospital 

Ministers have final sign-off over the appointment. In a letter to colleagues announcing his resignation, Sir Simon described being in charge of the NHS through ‘some of the toughest challenges in its history’ as a privilege.

Sir Simon – who has been in charge for seven years – has served through three elections and the Covid pandemic. According to the NHS England annual report for 2019/20, the chief executive’s salary was between £195,000 and £200,000.

The report stated that Sir Simon had, during that year, voluntarily taken a £20,000 annual pay cut for the sixth year in a row. The decision is expected shortly as Sir Simon Stevens, pictured, has ruled out staying in the job beyond the end of July after his seven-year tenure 

Lady Harding was heavily criticised during her stint in charge of the country’s contact tracing programme. A report earlier this year said T&T had ‘minimal impact on transmission’ despite receiving £37billion of funding.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said in March there was no evidence the tracing scheme had made a dent in Covid transmission, despite its ‘unimaginable’ budget.

Last year No10 spent £22billion on Test and Trace and the Chancellor promised to throw another £15billion at it in 2021, bringing the total cost to £37billion. The PAC report said the Government was treating British taxpayers ‘like an ATM machine’.

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, a member of the House of Lords and former permanent secretary at the Treasury, also waded into the row. He posted a cutting tweet that added: ‘The extraordinary thing is that nobody in the government seems surprised or shocked. No matter: the BoE will just print more money.’

Lady Harding’s leadership of Test and Trace last year prompted senior backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Liaison Committee, to join Labour in suggesting she be replaced.

At one point in October last year, ahead of the second lockdown which came in in November, the system hit a record low with just 59.6 per cent of the contacts of people who tested positive for the disease being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.

Sir Bernard, who chairs the Liaison Committee of senior MPs which questions the Prime Minister twice a year, said the peer should be given a ‘well-earned break’ so she and others could ‘reflect on the lessons learned so far’.

Last September she was ridiculed when she claimed nobody was ‘expecting’ to see the ‘really sizeable increase in demand’ for Covid checks ahead of the start of the school year.

Lady Harding’s comments, which come despite the return of schools and more people heading back to work, sparked outrage as she told MPs ‘none of the modelling’ had suggested there would be such a steep uptick in requests. 

She blamed the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for seemingly getting its predictions wrong as she said testing capacity had been built based on the panel’s recommendations.

There were also numerous reports of staff at deserted walk-in testing centres turning people away if they didn’t have an appointment or weren’t showing obvious coronavirus symptoms.

Baroness Harding was appointed CEO of TalkTalk in 2010, serving in the role for seven years, during which the company was the victim of a cyber attack that saw the personal and banking details of 157,000 customers accessed by hackers.

She was subjected to repeated blackmail attempts after the hack, with demands for Bitcoins in exchange for stolen data, which included customers’ names, email addresses, mobile numbers, home addresses and dates of birth.

In the aftermath, TalkTalk was fined a record £400,000 for security failings which allowed the data to be accessed ‘with ease’ in one of the biggest data breaches in history.

TalkTalk is thought to have lost £60million from the fallout with an estimated 100,000 angry customers leaving, mainly to BT, while 2015 profits halved to £14million and shares lost nearly two-thirds of their value.

Baroness Harding faced repeated calls to step down over the breach, but stayed on until 2017, when she resigned to focus on her ‘public service activities’. Later that year, she was appointed chair of NHS Improvement, responsible for overseeing all NHS hospitals.

I’ve had my two jabs… can I still catch Covid? And how worried should we REALLY be about the spiralling rate of infections? Britain’s leading experts answer the questions that everyone’s fretting about 

By ETHAN ENNALS FOR THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

On Friday 27,000 Britons tested positive for Covid-19. In the past week there have been more than 150,000 new cases. The growth of the Delta variant of the virus is now exponential, doubling in numbers roughly every ten days.

If it feels like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have: the picture was the same in December, shortly before the country went into lockdown again. So should we be worried? The verdict from even some of the more cautious in the scientific community, is a resounding no.

Last year around one in ten people who became infected with the virus ended up in hospital, but the protection provided by vaccines now means it is fewer than two in every 100.

According to a Public Health England report published last week, the jabs have already prevented 27,200 deaths in the UK. And with two doses providing more than 90 per cent protection against the Delta variant, many more lives will be saved in the months to come.

Protection: Liz Hurley shows off her double-jab badge. She said: ‘Thank you all NHS frontline workers for risking so much to keep us safe’

Liz Hurley tweeted that she received both jabs on May 21, writing: ‘All my family in my age group and older are now double vaccinated’

As Boris Johnson triumphantly announced on Thursday, the UK’s vaccine rollout has ‘broken that link between infection and mortality and that is an amazing thing’. This means, despite the growing number of cases, the Government is confident it will be able to remove all restrictions on July 19.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday for the first time in his new role as Health Secretary, Sajid Javid said things were ‘heading in the right direction’ and ‘restrictions on our freedoms must come to an end’. He added: ‘No date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it – we have to learn to live with it.’

But what living with it will look like is still unclear. How closely should we be watching the rise in cases, and will hospitals soon be once again filled with thousands of Covid patients? And what about the winter?

We spoke to leading scientists to try to answer these and other burning questions.

Q: Has vaccination broken the link between infections and hospitalisations?

A: It is beyond doubt that vaccines have had a substantial impact. Covid infections now are at the same level as in mid-December, when hospitals were being flooded with patients suffering severe symptoms and dying as a result.

On December 14 there were 30,000 new cases, just under 2,000 patients were admitted to hospital with Covid on that day and 479 died.

Last week daily cases topped 27,000, but the number of hospitalisations and deaths are a far cry from those seen in December. On Thursday 331 patients entered hospital in England with severe Covid symptoms while 22 people died.

‘The link between infections and hospitalisations has been significantly weakened,’ says Professor Lawrence Young, virus expert at the University of Warwick.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured receiving his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at St Thomas’ Hospital on March 19 this year in London

‘Without vaccines we’d be seeing hospitalisations and deaths akin to what we saw in the winter. Instead the numbers are very low.’ However, others point out that the link is not ‘completely severed’ – hospitalisations and deaths are rising, albeit slowly.

The number of Covid patients being admitted to hospital every day in the UK has nearly doubled since the beginning of June from a seven-day average of 124. Deaths have more than doubled over the same time period too. Some experts believe these numbers could begin to increase at a faster rate.

James Ward, a data analyst who specialises in Covid projections, points out infections are beginning to reach older age groups and that this could affect hospital levels.

He says: ‘Currently only two per cent of people who catch Covid end up in hospital. Considering that rate was ten per cent in February, that’s really incredible.

‘But up until now, the majority of cases have been in younger age groups who weren’t at risk of getting seriously ill in the first place. Now, with more elderly people getting infected, I think we should expect hospitalisations to climb at a faster rate.’

Q: So how bad could things get?

A: Scientists are in disagreement over this. Projections presented to the Government by scientists at the University of Warwick in early June suggested that by the beginning of July there could be nearly 1,000 Covid hospital admissions a day.

Thankfully, current figures are little over a quarter of that, but experts are unanimous that the figures won’t stay where they are.

Prof Young says at the rate we’re going, by July 19 the UK could be recording more than 40,000 new cases a day. ‘It’s hard to imagine going back to normality with infection rates that high,’ he adds.

This is because, even with the strong defences provided by the vaccines, a rise of this magnitude would translate into an increase in people being admitted to hospital.

Scientists believe between five and ten per cent of fully vaccinated people – those who have had two doses – could still end up in hospital with the virus. This is because many people have weakened immune systems, whether due to old age or illness, which means that even with the vaccine their bodies cannot mount a strong defence. 

Members of the public queue to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine outside a temporary vaccination centre set up in the Emirates Stadium in north London on June 25 

Heightened case numbers would increase the likelihood of those with compromised immune systems becoming infected and ending up in hospital.

James Ward believes that, following the easing of all restrictions on July 19, hospital Covid admissions could peak somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 a week. He says: ‘At its worst this is still only 50 per cent of the admissions seen in February, when we were seeing 30,000 every week, but it would be enough to put pressure on the NHS.’

Doctors speaking to this newspaper say they are already concerned about how they would continue to treat non-Covid patients if hospital admissions began to climb.

One director at a large London hospital trust says they are drawing up plans to use staff from cancer care in the intensive care unit, adding: ‘We could lose anywhere between ten and 40 per cent of our cancer staff if we have to start treating a sustained level of Covid patients again. That would massively impact our ability to provide cancer care. I’m nervous about what is going to happen over the next few weeks. We’re praying for the best but planning for the worst.’

However, other NHS managers are not as concerned.

One director of care at an NHS Trust in the Midlands says: ‘Right now we’re not expecting too much disruption. We currently have only three Covid patients in hospital.

‘When the case numbers were this high in the winter, we had many more patients in. The vaccines are clearly doing the job and keeping hospitalisations low.

‘Obviously things can change very quickly and the picture may look different in two weeks, but right now I’m comfortable with the plan to reopen on July 19.’

Q: I have been double jabbed. Could I still be at risk?

A: While Covid numbers are on the rise, far fewer people in older, more vulnerable age groups are catching the virus now.

Prior to the arrival of the vaccines in December, there were roughly as many Covid cases in the over-60s as there were in the under-20s. Now there are ten times as many cases in the under-20s.

On average, fewer than 500 cases a day are in the over-60s.

If the vaccines are stopping much of this group from catching Covid, then it reduces the already slim possibility that someone fully vaccinated could end up in hospital with the virus. However, the risk is not zero – for every 100 people who have been vaccinated, between five and ten will still catch Covid and become unwell, according to studies. If those people are already vulnerable, due to pre-existing illnesses or weakened immune systems, they’re more likely to be hospitalised. 

Mr Johnson receives his second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from health worker James Black at the Francis Crick Institute in central London on June 3

This is certainly the picture reported by medics working on Covid wards right now.

One insider said: ‘Half of our Covid patients are unvaccinated people under 30, and half are vaccinated vulnerable.

‘The vulnerable people tend to have several comorbidities [more than one serious illness].

‘One recent patient was a 78-year-old man from a care home with a history of strokes. He doesn’t currently need a ventilator but is on oxygen and could stay in hospital for quite some time. We’re seeing very few previously healthy 80-year-olds coming in, so age is less of a factor than it used to be.

‘We’re also seeing frail patients who are close to death and, to be blunt, for whom Covid was what happened to kill them. It could have just as easily been pneumonia.

‘Worryingly, though, we are also seeing several younger patients with serious symptoms. Last week on our ward an unvaccinated man in his 30s died of Covid. But younger patients typically come in for oxygen and leave within a day or two.’

With case numbers at such high levels, experts say those worried about their health should consider taking precautions even after restrictions are removed.

Prof Lawrence Young says: ‘People may want to keep wearing a face mask or avoid large gatherings if they are nervous about catching the virus, at least until the infection rate falls.’

Q: What is the verdict on the safety of large gatherings?

A: There is still a level of risk attached to crowded spaces.

Last week the Government published its long-awaited Events Research Programme report, which assessed the infection risk of large events. The report studied data from nine large-scale events, including the FA Cup Final, the Brit Awards and two nightclubs in Liverpool.

At first glance, the findings appeared to be good news.

Of the 58,000 people who attended the events, there were only 28 reported cases of Covid-19 afterwards and there were ‘no major outbreaks’, meaning the cases were mainly unconnected.

However, the report was unable to make any recommendations to the Government on the feasibility of reopening large events safely, due to the low infection rates at the time of the events. Scientists involved in the study also admitted only a third of participants returned a Covid test after an event, making it harder for them to track possible infections.

People wait in a queue outside Wimbledon before the start of play at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London on June 28

Last week Public Health Scotland said that nearly 2,000 Covid cases in Scotland were linked to people watching Euro 2020 football matches in large groups. Two thirds of these were people who travelled to London for Scotland’s game against England on June 18. This also included 387 fans who were in Wembley Stadium for the match.

While public health officials said it was impossible to know whether people contracted the virus while watching the match, scientists argue it is clear evidence that mass events have a heightened risk of exposure.

Prof Young says: ‘The Events Research Programme was a flawed project which didn’t teach us anything we didn’t know before.

‘The biggest risk of transmission remains to be at what we call pinch points. These are spaces where close contact in a confined space is unavoidable, like trains or small crowded pubs.’

Q: Is it true that Covid is becoming milder?

A: Symptoms certainly appear to be changing. When the pandemic began, Government scientists told the public that the three main signs of Covid were a temperature, persistent cough and change in taste and smell. Now, according to a survey by the Office for National Statistics, the most commonly reported symptoms are a cough, headache and fatigue.

Scientists claim the change has occurred not because the disease has become milder but because it is infecting healthier people.

Alex Crozier, a Covid-19 research scientist, says: ‘Covid is now spreading predominantly through the younger age groups, who have strong immune systems. This means the virus is unlikely to affect them severely. So their bodies are reacting to it differently and we’re seeing fewer severe symptoms now.’

Crozier says it is important to highlight these new symptoms in an effort to control the rapid spread of the virus. He adds: ‘It’s possible many people believe they have a cold or hay fever but are walking around with Covid, potentially putting others at risk of infection.’

Q: While children aren’t being vaccinated, are we fighting a losing battle?

A: Many scientists believe children hold the key to putting an end to the Covid pandemic.

Cases will continue to rise and fall until enough Britons have immunity against the virus, leaving it with nowhere to go. This is what is called herd immunity.

Immunity can be gained either through vaccination or infection, but how many people need to attain immunity for the herd threshold to be reached is still up for debate.

Initial estimates were that roughly 70 per cent of Britons needed to be immune, but the arrival of the Delta variant has changed things, given that it is far more infectious than previous variants. This means more people need immunity to stop it spreading. Scientists now believe that 85 per cent of the population needs immunity – and therein, some say, lies the problem.

Professor Martin Hibberd, an infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says: ‘You can vaccinate the entire adult population and you still would not reach 85 per cent coverage. To get there you need to vaccinate at least some of the under-18s.’ 

Immunity can be gained either through vaccination or infection, but how many people need to attain immunity for the herd threshold to be reached is still up for debate (pictured: a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccination centre in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre)

While the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use in over-12s in the UK, the Government’s vaccine advisory group, the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has repeatedly delayed publishing its guidance on vaccinating under-18s, citing a need for more safety data from the United States, which began vaccinating children aged 12 and older in May.

Prof Lawrence Young says: ‘I can’t understand why we aren’t getting on and vaccinating youngsters. It’s necessary if we want to reach herd immunity but it would also protect their education. It would end this constant disruption of schools, as vaccinated children wouldn’t need to isolate.’

However, not all scientists are in agreement. On Thursday, Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the JCVI, said: ‘Given the low risk of Covid for most teenagers, it is not immoral to think they may be better protected by natural immunity generated through infection than by asking them to take the possible risk of a vaccine.’

Q: What about long Covid – aren’t young people as much at risk from that?

A: Scientists believe roughly one in ten people who catch Covid will suffer from prolonged symptoms, known as long Covid.

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than one million Britons are currently experiencing long Covid. Of those, two-thirds say their symptoms – which include shortness of breath, muscle ache and brain fog – are impacting their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Early studies suggest that vaccines cut the risk of long Covid by as much as 50 per cent.

With infection levels highest in under-30s, experts say the Government needs to take long Covid into consideration when thinking about removing restrictions.

Dr David Strain, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, says: ‘If one in ten people under the age of 30 are off work because they are unwell for months, that will have a massive impact on business.’

Q: Could there be another lockdown?

A: Experts say while some restrictions could return in winter, a full lockdown is highly unlikely. Indeed some scientists believe removing all restrictions on July 19 will reduce the risk of a winter wave.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, says: ‘More infections now means fewer in the autumn and winter because people will have immunity following infection.

‘With the majority of our vulnerable population fully vaccinated, now is arguably the safest time to ride out a wave.’ The worry is, with a particularly bad winter for non-Covid viruses forecast, even a small rise in Covid hospitalisations could place the NHS under pressure.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks past closed-down shops on an empty Regent Street in London during the first nationwide lockdown on April 2 last year 

It is believed that the effectiveness of the vaccines will wane over time, meaning those vaccinated first, who are also the most at risk due to age and health, could be more vulnerable to the virus by autumn. For that reason, last week the Government announced plans for Covid booster jabs beginning in September for over-50s.

On top of this, scientists believe the Government may need to bring back some restrictions to keep case numbers in check.

Prof Young says: ‘I think it’s almost inevitable that we’ll see some rules reintroduced in winter. Because of the weather, people will mix indoors more, making transmission more likely. I can’t imagine a full lockdown, but there may be a good argument for the return of social distancing and the rule of six.’

Prof Hunter adds: ‘Historically vaccination campaigns have good take-up initially, but this almost always drops the following year.

‘If fewer people come forward [for booster jabs] then we may see more hospitalisations and therefore may need more restrictions.’

However, he adds: ‘We may also find ourselves in a situation where it is in our best interests to just tough it out without any restrictions. Unfortunately this virus isn’t going anywhere. Eventually we need to strike a balance where we can learn to live with it.’

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