Independent SAGE Issues Warning That Government Should “Pause” Roadmap Or Risk Another Lockdown
The independent group of scientists have warned the UK could be headed for another lockdown (Alamy)
A group of leading scientists has urged the government not to go ahead with the final stage of its roadmap on 21 June amid fears the Delta variant could lead to a fourth national lockdown.
In a statement released on Friday, the Independent SAGE group said it would be “difficult to justify” going ahead with the plan due a significant rise in coronavirus cases linked to a new variant of concern.
Their intervention comes as the UK reported over 5,000 cases on Thursday for the first time since shortly before restrictions were relaxed in late March, according to figures from Public Health England (PHE).
The data also revealed that the number of cases of the Delta variant, first discovered in India, had risen by 5,472 since last week to 12,431.
Independent SAGE warned that this new strain is believed to be more infectious than previous ones and so “it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation”.
They also pointed to evidence that vaccines were less effective against Delta than other strains, especially among those who had only received one dose.
“We wish to avoid another full lockdown, which will damage education and people’s wellbeing as well as the economy. This requires reversing the growth in cases,” the group’s statement read.
“The UK government will announce their plans for future pandemic control on 14th June.
“As things stand, it is very difficult to justify progressing with the last stage of the roadmap, scheduled for 21st June, a point that should be made now to modify current false hopes.
The group, which is led by Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, also recommended that ministers bolster financial support for those self isolating and reinstate face coverings for secondary school pupils.
It said the government should ditch its newly-launched traffic light system for international travel, and replace it with a “comprehensive border control with managed quarantine”.
News broke on Friday that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first of four approved in the UK, has now been deemed safe for use on children aged 12 to 15.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had conducted a "rigorous review" of the effects of the vaccine on teenagers and found that the benefits outweight any risks.
The UK's vaccines committee will now decide whether children should get the jab.
As of yesterday, more than half of UK adults had been given both coronavirus vaccine doses, and over three quarters had had at least one.
In total, 39.7 million people had been given their first vaccine dose, with 26.4 million having had both doses.
Boris Johnson welcomed the "amazing achievement", while vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the UK had hit "another important milestone".
But ministers have remained guarded on whether the 21 June lifting can go ahead as planned, with Robert Jenrick insisting this morning that the government was taking a “cautious” approach.
The housing secretary said the country was coming to a “difficult decision point” and suggested there were “some signals” in the data that threw the final stage of lockdown lifting into doubt.
But he insisted that there's “nothing at the moment that suggests that we won't be able to move forward”.
Earlier this week, Boris Johnson said data on whether vaccines protect against the Delta variant was “still ambiguous”, but repeated that there was no current prospect of the 21 June lifting being delayed.
"What we need to work out is to what extent the vaccination programme has protected enough of us – particularly the elderly and vulnerable – against a new surge,” he said.
He added that he was in “long sessions” with senior advisers where they were “interrogating all the data”.
"And the best the scientists can say at the moment, in their guidance to us, is that we just need to give it a little bit longer.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe