Sir Chris Whitty was last night accused of allowing the Government to ‘abandon’ vulnerable people under Boris Johnson’s ‘living with Covid’ blueprint.
Angry scientists claimed England’s chief medical officer had endorsed ‘bad public health’ and questioned why he hadn’t done ‘more’ to protect millions of vulnerable adults.
Sir Chris stood alongside the Prime Minister last night as he hailed the end of the ‘darkest, grimmest years in our peace-time history’.
Speaking at a historic Downing Street press conference, the PM confirmed the legal requirement for infected people to self-isolate will be scrapped from Thursday. Free testing will end on April 1 for all but the elderly and vulnerable.
High vaccine uptake and the receding Omicron wave means England can move from Government restrictions to ‘personal responsibility’, he said.
England’s top medic Sir Chris Whitty urged people to act cautiously but didn’t publicly question the move, which will see the country live alongside the virus like flu.
Professor Richard Horton, editor of scientific journal the Lancet, questioned why Sir Chris did not do ‘more’ to protect vulnerable groups.
He said it was ‘extraordinarily depressing’ to see Sir Chris and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, ‘lend their credibility to this broken Prime Minister’.
Critics say the move will fuel the spread of Covid and abandons older and at-risk groups, who are the most at risk of becoming severly unwell and dying from the virus.
Independent SAGE members, a group of scientists who have repeatedly push for Covid curbs, questioned how clinically vulnerable people can stay safe if there is no support for isolation or widespread testing.
British scientists accused England’s top medic Sir Chris Whitty (pictured) and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser, of ‘debasing their titles’ for supporting the PM’s plans, which are ‘politically, not scientifically driven’
At a Downing Street press conference last night, Mr Johnson (centre) set out that from Thursday, the self-isolation law will be axed, while contact tracing and quarantine payments will come to an end. Sir Chris Whitty (left) and Sir Patrick Vallance (right) stood alongside Mr Johnson and issued a stark warning that Covid is not ‘trivial’ and more severe variants could emerge
At a Downing Street press conference last night, Mr Johnson revealed that the self-isolation law will expire on Thursday.
Routine contact tracing and quarantine payments will also come to an end. However, people will still be advised to stay at home if they are infected.
Nicola Sturgeon will demand MORE cash to keep free Covid testing in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon will today unveil her pandemic exit plan for Scotland amid a furious row with Boris Johnson over his decision to scrap free coronavirus tests.
Ms Sturgeon will set out her proposals for a gradual return to normal life in a statement to Holyrood this afternoon.
Her approach is expected to be more cautious that Mr Johnson’s in England after he yesterday announced the end of self-isolation rules from February 24 and the withdrawal of free tests for the general public from April 1.
Ms Sturgeon wants some isolation rules and free testing to continue but Downing Street has said on the latter that it will not provide any extra cash to pay for it, given the provision is ending in England.
The SNP is calling on the Treasury to provide more money but Chancellor Rishi Sunak is not expected to budge on the issue.
That means Ms Sturgeon would have to cut spending elsewhere if she wants to continue to provide free tests.
Enhanced statutory sick pay for the infected will be axed next month.
And from April, lateral flow and PCR tests will no longer be available to the public for free. However, some elderly and vulnerable people will still be able to get free tests.
But Sir Chris and Sir Patrick — who have previously tried to call on the Government to introduce restrictions — didn’t publicly disagree with the move.
And the PM insisted there was not ‘some division between the gung ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists’.
Standing alongside Mr Johnson at the 7pm press conference, the pair issued a stark warning that Covid is not ‘trivial’ and more severe variants could emerge.
The chief medical officer warned the Omicron wave is ‘still high’ and large numbers are in hospital with the virus.
He said if the public had not acted cautiously after Omicron emerged, the situation would be ‘a lot worse’.
And Sir Chris cautioned new variants will inevitably appear and trigger ‘significant problems’, a point echoed by the PM himself.
He also urged people to still isolate if they have Covid to ‘try to prevent other people getting it’.
But a stream of British scientists hit out at Sir Chris and Sir Patrick for endorsing the PM’s strategy.
Professor Horton tweeted: ‘It’s just extraordinarily depressing to see two intelligent and respected individuals, Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, lend their credibility to this broken Prime Minister.
‘The UK government’s decisions on self-isolation and testing roll-back are politically, not scientifically, driven.
‘The chief medical officer and chief scientific advisor should have had no part in this. They have debased their titles.
‘At this time of releasing protections, the UK government should be strengthening, not relaxing, surveillance. This is bad public health.
‘The UK government is abandoning those most at risk of Covid: those over 65 years, the immunocompromised, and those with multiple morbidities. Why is the CMO not doing more to protect these groups?’
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, noted that the top medic and scientists mentioned protecting the vulnerable.
‘But how on earth do they think clinically vulnerable people will keep safe if infected people are not required to or supported to isolate? And if testing for most people ends?’, she tweeted.
Dr Kit Yates, a mathematician at the University of Bath and member of Independent SAGE, said Sir Chris and Sir Patrick’s comments on safeguarding vulnerable people ‘doesn’t square with the government’s plan’.
He tweeted: ‘How will clinically vulnerable people stay safe if there is no support for isolation and no community testing?’
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, a primary healthcare expert and GP, tweeted: ‘Whitty and Vallance are good men with good motives.
‘But I, too, am troubled by the corrupt company they keep and the fine line between acquiescence and endorsement.’