‘Terrible mistake!’ 1,000 experts warn Boris ‘herd immunity’ strategy will kill thousands

July 19th: Sir David King says plans are ‘very risky’

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Sir David King, the UK’s former Chief Scientific Adviser and chairman of Independent SAGE, issued his stark warning in support of an open letter signed by more than 1,000 UK scientists in the Lancet criticising plans to remove all coronavirus restrictions next week. And the same group of scientists behind the letter has issued a separate statement today in which they branded the Government’s approach as “dangerous and unethical”.

They also outlined a four-pronged strategy which they argued was necessary to prepare the British public for the autumn.

Mr Johnson outlined his plans in a statement at Number 10 yesterday.

Specifically, the Prime Minister confirmed legal requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing would end on that date – while simultaneously stressing: “This pandemic is not over” and urging people not to indulge in “a great jubilee of freedom from any kind of caution and restraint.”

Sir David King said: “We stand squarely behind this statement.

“It is unbelievable that the UK government should embark on a herd immunity strategy that will see thousands of unnecessary deaths and severe long-term illness when so much progress has been made with the vaccination programme.

“As we have said for over a year this strategy is completely wrong and does not reflect the best scientific or medical advice.”

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The group of scientists includes the lead author of the Lancet memo, clinical epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary University, Professor Trish Greenhalgh of Oxford University, and Professor Christina Pagel of University College London and Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Tropical Health and Hygiene, both of whom are members of Independent SAGE.

Their statement said: “The Prime Minister’s statement today leaves little doubt that the government’s latest pandemic plan involves recklessly exposing millions to the acute and long-term impacts of mass infection. We believe this is a terrible mistake.

“This strategy is already putting intense pressure on struggling healthcare services and will lead to many avoidable deaths and long-term illness.

“The narrative of ‘caution, vigilance and personal responsibility’ is an abdication of the government’s fundamental duty to protect public health.”

The statement added: “Ministers have been told to expect 1 to 2 million cases in the coming weeks, with a daily case count of up to 100,000.

“However, the government has confirmed plans to remove almost all public health measures on 19 July in an apparent strategy of achieving herd immunity through mass infection, rather than the much safer (and more predictable) path of vaccination.

“A strategy that chooses mass infection in children and young people now as a way to protect the vulnerable in winter, instead of taking the time to vaccinate our young is unethical and unscientific.”

And the scientists warned: “Opening further is billed as “freedom day”, but for many it is anything but.

“Those living with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID (and vaccines less effective against it) fear a return to shielding indoors as they are no longer protected by low case numbers and measures such as others wearing masks, physical distancing and isolation of contacts.

“Since vaccinated people can and do transmit the virus, many of their loved ones will need to restrict their activities to protect them.”

Dr Gurdasani commented: “The government is dooming hundreds of thousands of our young to long-term illness and disability when it could be easily protecting them with safe vaccines.

“This is completely reckless and makes no sense.”

The experts urged the Government to:

  • Articulate a long-term strategy for pandemic control relying on “clear evidence-based information” on how to keep can protect themselves and others
  • Keep basic preventive measures such as masks, physical distancing, and outdoor hospitality until cases return to the levels seen in May, arguing: “These measures are minor disruptions that increase our freedoms rather than restrict them”
  • Focus on data not dates by waiting until cases are low, school and workplace mitigations are in place and most aged 12 and above are vaccinated before opening up further, as well as backing the widespread installation of ventilation systems and encouraging work from home wherever possible
  • Provide local authorities with the means for extensive testing and support people to isolate if potentially contagious, as well as investing in schools to make them safer prior to September
  • Express.co.uk has approached Number 10 for comment.

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