Professor Robert West, a psychologist, accused ministers of ‘abdicating’ their responsibility for looking after the public
No10 is ‘abdicating’ its responsibility for looking after the public by dropping the final Covid rules, a Government adviser claimed today — barely hours before the plans were set to be revealed.
Professor Robert West, a psychologist and member of a SAGE sub-committee who also criticised lifting restrictions last summer, said plans to live with Covid like the flu were ‘irresponsible’.
He argued the move meant that Boris Johnson and senior ministers would ‘accept’ between 20,000 and 80,000 virus deaths every year.
For comparison, flu kills in the region of 20,000 people in a bad winter.
Professor West, from University College London, said there are a ‘large number of deaths’ from heart disease and cancer but we don’t just say: ‘Well, we’ve got to live with it.’
‘We do an awful lot with heart disease and cancer and other forms of deaths to try to prevent them and to treat them,’ the SPI-B panelist added. ‘So it seems a little odd really to be saying “Well, Covid, we’re going to treat that differently. We’re not going to try and prevent it”.’
Mr Johnson will go ahead with his grand ‘Living With Covid’ set-piece today, after Cabinet finally signed the plan off after hours of last-ditch haggling over testing.
Ministers have given the green light to the strategy at the second time of asking — after they had to be sent away from Downing Street this morning because details had not been thrashed out.
Mr Johnson is now expected to make a Commons statement at around 4.30pm laying out the blueprint, and a timetable for scrapping ‘free’ tests which have been costing the taxpayer around £2billion a month. He will then hold a press conference at 7pm.
Some scientists gave a luke-warm welcome to the plan today — which should see self-isolation laws axed from Thursday — saying there is no ‘right or wrong’ time to end them.
But Labour, the unions and experts argue it is simply too early to consider scrapping Covid curbs, and that the plan is to distract from lockdown parties.
Pictured above is Sir Chris Whitty (right) and Sir Patrick Vallance (left). They will join the Prime Minister this evening for a press conference when he scraps the remaining Covid rules
Entire country probably WON’T need Covid booster jab every winter, expert says
Not every Briton will need to get a Covid booster vaccine every winter, one of the country’s top experts claimed today.
Oxford University’s Sir Andrew Pollard — who advises No10 on the jab roll out — said the current ‘wall of immunity’ will keep the virus at bay for most Britons.
But he admitted it was ‘reasonable to think’ that the most vulnerable members of society would likely be offered top-up doses in the future.
His comments echo other scientists, who say annual Covid jabs will likely be offered to all those that get a flu shot every year. This includes the over-50s, care home residents, health workers, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.
Sir Andrew, who is part of the team behind the AstraZeneca jab, also gave a luke-warm reception to plans to dump the last Covid measures, saying there was no ‘right or wrong’ time to relax the final rules.
Over-75s and the most vulnerable in Britain are expected to be offered a fourth jab within weeks. It has been six months since many received their last jab in late 2021.
Scientists say the top-up doses may be needed because of concerns over how long immunity from the jabs lasts.
Israel has offered fourth jabs to its over-60s and health workers since early January, and expanded the roll out to all adults later that month.
But some academics say the US, the UK and other major economies could be on the brink of over-vaccinating people in the fight against Covid.
Under the plans, contact tracing will also be wound down, and Covid testing for pupils twice a week will also be dropped, according to The Guardian.
Railing against the move, Professor West accused the Government of abdicating ‘its own responsibility for looking after its population’.
He said: ‘It looks as though what the Government has said is that it accepts that the country is going to have to live with somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 Covid deaths a year and isn’t really going to do anything about it.
‘Now, that seems to me to be irresponsible.’
England recorded fewer than 70,000 coronavirus deaths during 2020, a time before life-saving vaccines were available — below Professor West’s highest estimate.
The country has also suffered fewer than 15,000 fatalities since the Omicron wave took off.
The UK is also currently registering about 144 Covid deaths a day, well below the 400 a day average at the peak of the last bad flu season in 2017/18.
And the virus was only the fourth leading cause of death in England and Wales at the end of 2021, behind dementia, heart disease and respiratory problems.
It has not been the leading cause of death since February 2021, at the tail-end of the Alpha wave before vaccines were widely administered.
Professor West has previously slammed Government plans, accusing ministers of trying to get as many people infected as possible last year and saying the public were not tired of Covid rules two weeks before measures were eased.
Some scientists supported Mr Johnson’s plans today, with Sir Andrew Pollard, a top expert at Oxford University, giving them a luke-warm reception and saying there was no ‘right or wrong’ time to end restrictions.
He said it was ‘enormously difficult’ to decide when to end the final measures.
‘There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this because we don’t have a measure that helps us get there,’ he said.
Sir Andrew noted that although the measures had benefits, including breaking chains of transmission and limiting hospital admissions, there were also hidden harms.
‘(The harms) include things, just from a health perspective, like the the impact on hospitals of having staff self-isolating, the inability to perform operations, there will be surgery cancelled today that may be critical for people because of staff who are off work during that period; the impact on education, on the workplace and the economy,’ he said.
‘The impacts on the economy and mental health will have longer-term consequences.
‘So if we could find a measure that brings all of that together, we could work out the exact right moment (for lifting restrictions).’
Britain is also now considering plans to roll out fourth doses to the over-75s. Above is a man getting his fourth dose in Israel, which has been rolling out the extra jabs since January
Former SAGE adviser Professor Robert Dingwall has also backed the move, saying the change is ‘not a cliff-edge’.
‘Large numbers of people are not going to start changing their behaviour overnight – but behaviour will gradually shift, as it did last year,’ he said.
He also suggested the remaining restrictions were already only having a marginal impact because of the lack of enforcement.
Other scientists called for the final relaxation to be slowed down, however, warning it risked accelerating the spread of the virus.
Dr Simon Clarke, from Reading University, said: ‘This is not a move motivated by data, despite what ministers will doubtless say; they have never outlined what the national Covid picture would need to look like for this to happen.
‘It seems to be a Government pantomime geared towards persuading people that it’s all over and I expect that in the coming days it will be linked to helping the NHS get back on its feet.
‘However, allowing infections to run riot in the community and be transferred into hospitals, which they will probably end up being unfairly blamed for again, will just cause more problems in vulnerable patients.’
Referring to ‘Partygate’ probes, Labour’s health spokesman Wes Streeting said: ‘Boris Johnson is declaring victory before the war is over, in an attempt to distract from the police knocking at his door.
‘The Government should publish the evidence behind this decision, so the public can have faith it is being made in the national interest.’
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