Scientists have urged the Government to “pause” plans to ease England’s coronavirus lockdown and issued seven demands amid a “rapid increase” in cases of the Delta variant.
The independent Sage panel warned that the latest data shows increased infectivity of the variant, also known as the Indian variant, and that it is spreading widely across the UK.
It made seven demands (scroll down for a full list) while suggesting England could go into a “full lockdown” again if the growth in cases is not reversed.
The mutant strain has become dominant in the UK and evidence suggests it may lead to an increased risk of being admitted to hospital compared with the Kent variant.
And a new study suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works less well at preventing infections of the Delta variant.
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Independent Sage said the link between Covid infection and hospitalisation “has not yet been fully broken” – despite claims by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – and the Government should delay its plans to lift restrictions on June 21 under Boris Johnson’s four-step roadmap.
The group is chaired by Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the Government.
Scientists said cases among children are “surging” and “spreading into the community”, including those who have not yet received two doses of a vaccine.
A spokesperson for Independent Sage said: “We are currently witnessing a rapid increase in Covid-19 cases in England.
“Public Health England figures released on 3rd June suggest that the Delta variant has spread widely across the UK and is continuing to spread, that it has higher infectivity than the previous circulating variant, and that it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalisation.
“There is increasing evidence that vaccine efficacy is compromised against this variant, and that individuals remain at particular risk until they receive two doses.
“There is some evidence that protection from two doses wanes after a number of months, particularly in the elderly.
“Meanwhile, cases are surging in school aged children, and spreading into the community, particularly amongst those yet to be fully vaccinated. It is clear that the link between infection and hospitalisation has not yet been fully broken.
“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 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.”
Independent Sage said the Government should immediately implement a number of measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Scientists’ seven demands
- Delaying the easing of lockdown restrictions on June 21.
- Offering more “financial and practical support” to people who are required to isolate after developing symptoms, testing positive or having been in contact with someone who has since tested positive.
- Making sure schools, workplaces and hospitality settings have adequate ventilation and infection control measures, with rigorous monitoring, certification and penalties for offenders.
- Forcing secondary school children to wear face coverings again and providing resources to improve classroom ventilation.
- Scrapping red/amber/green traffic light system for international travel and replacing it with “comprehensive border control with managed quarantine” in a bid to prevent the importation of variants and exportation of UK infection.
- Further accelerating the vaccine rollout and ensuring completion of two doses; booster jabs for vulberable Brits should be considered “urgently” by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
- “Adequately” contributing to the global vaccine initiative to help control transmission worldwide.
The Covid-19 variant that originated in India is now believed to be dominant in the UK, with early evidence suggesting it may lead to an increased risk of being admitted to hospital compared with the Kent variant.
A total of 12,431 cases of the Indian variant, also known as the Delta variant, have been confirmed in the UK up to June 2, according to Public Health England (PHE).
This up 79 per cent from the previous week’s total of 6,959.
PHE’s June 3 risk assessment for the Indian variant found that vaccines were less effective against the strain compared to the Kent mutation.
The findings, which have been determined with a “high degree of confidence” according to PHE, also suggest people are more at risk of hospital admission if infected with the variant.