Boris Johnson warned thousands will die if 19 July unlocking goes ahead – ‘This is callous and inhumane’

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·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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Prime minister Boris Johnson in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 semi final match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Wednesday July 7, 2021. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is facing strong warnings against lifting coronavirus restrictions. (Getty Images)

Top scientists have warned thousands of people are set to die if and when Boris Johnson ends England’s coronavirus lockdown on 19 July.

In an “emergency” press conference in which some COVID-19 experts spoke out against the government allowing mass infection across the population, the prime minister was told: “Those who claim victory too easily will fail.”

It comes after Johnson announced on Monday that most mitigations against the virus will be dropped when the lockdown ends. 

This end date is currently set for 19 July, with final confirmation from the PM due on Monday.

On Thursday, medical journal The Lancet published a piece, signed by 97 scientists and experts, warning lifting restrictions will be “dangerous and premature”.

Watch: Boris Johnson refuses to say how many COVID deaths he expects this summer

The government itself has acknowledged COVID cases will soon reach 100,000 a day as restrictions are lifted.

In the press conference arranged following the publication of The Lancet article, editor Dr Richard Horton pointed to modelling from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggesting nearly 10,000 people could die from the disease by 1 October.

The same institute published modelling last month saying nearly 50,000 people could die of COVID by this date. It's not clear if Dr Horton was in fact referring to this research.

Different modelling presented to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) has suggested the summer death toll could be 40,000.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has refused to say how many coronavirus deaths he expects this summer.

“In other words,” Dr Horton said, “we are at a very dangerous moment in this pandemic. So let's not be epidemiologically stupid."

He said vaccine coverage needs to be scaled up to 70% of the total population – it’s currently 50% – and social distancing and mask wearing rules should continue.

“If we don’t do this, if we continue with the plan to lift mandates on 19 July, it will not be freedom that we win, it will be a self-inflicted wound of uncontrolled transmission of the Delta variant.

Coronavirus mitigations are set to be dropped on 19 July. (PA)
Coronavirus mitigations are set to be dropped on 19 July. (PA)

“The overriding lesson from countries worldwide is that those who claim victory too easily will fail. And the government’s plans currently fail all that we know about the science of coronavirus.”

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist from Queen Mary University of London who convened the press conference, accused the government of “effectively” pursuing a herd immunity strategy by “letting the pandemic rip through the unvaccinated”.

Dr Gurdasani said lifting restrictions will “create a generation blighted by a disease… they could have been vaccinated against in just a matter of weeks”.

“This government’s strategy is callous and inhumane. The government has completely abdicated its responsibility to the public.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the energy company Bulb in central London on July 8, 2021.

Evening Standard Picture

Picture Jeremy Selwyn (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JEREMY SELWYN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson's COVID strategy has been branded 'inhumane'. (Jeremy Selwyn/pool)

Johnson, for his part, has regularly pointed to the vaccination programme preventing huge numbers of COVID hospital admissions and deaths.

While these numbers are increasing, they are still nowhere near the levels seen during the second wave of the pandemic – though on Wednesday, daily cases were still 67,000 below the number anticipated by the government later this summer.

In an apparent challenge to his critics on Monday, Johnson asked: “If we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks... we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal?"

Read more:

Boris Johnson backs longer school day – 'It's the right thing to do'

Why your summer holiday could still be ruined by COVID

England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty, the UK's most prominent COVID scientist, also said he has “quite a strong view” lifting lockdown in the summer has advantages over autumn.

He said autumn will be “when schools are going back and when we’re heading into the winter period when the NHS tends to be under greatest pressure for many other reasons”.

Prof Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose modelling convinced the PM to impose the first lockdown in March last year, also said this week that lifting lockdown, while a "gamble", is "justifiable".

He said he is "reasonably optimistic, but policy will have to remain flexible".

Watch: Thursday's politics briefing

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