Scientist nearly 'loses it' on live TV over 'ridiculous and unethical' response to Indian variant

·5-min read
Professor Deepti Gurdasani branded the UK's border policy as 'ridiculous' and 'unethical' in a television interview (BBC News)
Professor Deepti Gurdasani branded the UK's border policy as 'ridiculous' and 'unethical' in a television interview (BBC News)

A leading scientist has said she "lost it" while being interviewed on TV as her frustration boiled over at what she says is the UK government's "ridiculous" and "unethical" border control policy.

Epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani gave a passionate speech on BBC News on Friday morning while discussing the government's decision to change Portugal's status to amber on the UK travel list. It means that, from Tuesday, anyone returning from the country to the UK will have to quarantine at home for 10 days.

“It's very clear that our border policy is not based on any sort of evidence, the green, amber, red lists are all ridiculous," she said.

Gurdasani, of Queen Mary University London, said the threat posed by Delta variant - previously known as the Indian variant - had been underplayed in recent weeks. 

She said: "That's why it's critical to actually contain transmission and control import of cases from borders because the situation - which is not very good now - could get worse if we let this continue." 

You can watch part of the interview on the link below. You can watch the full interview here, which starts 18 minutes into the programme.

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Discussing the so-called Nepal mutation - a mutation that has been found on the Delta variant - Gurdasani warned it is "more transmissible, more severe, and has significant escape against vaccines".

She added: "We have to have better border policies and better transmission containing policies to be able to deal with this".

When asked about comments made by Sir John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford University, who suggested that "a bit of balance" was needed when considering whether to continue with the roadmap out of lockdown, Gurdasani became more animated, saying that senior UK scientists should not be minimising the threat posed by variants.

Prof Bell said on Thursday: "“If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant, we’re going to spend a long time huddled away, so I think we do need to get a bit of balance in the discussion and keep our eyes on the serious disease that we’re trying to prevent."

Watch: Nepal variant blamed for Portugal decision

However, Gurdasani said: "I don't agree with him at all.

"The risk of the Delta was hugely minimised until we found out it was more transmissible, can escape vaccines, and is more severe. Now it's heading us into a third wave and possibly another lockdown. 

"The situation we are in now was not inevitable, it was completely avoidable. Our government did nothing to avoid it and we're making the same mistakes again."

You can watch the full interview here, starts 18 minutes into the programme.

Gurdasani said the UK was "not only importing" variants but "exporting across the globe" and suggested that the UK allowed a third wave to be exported to other parts of the world.

"We're happy to send that with people on holidays to expose to people in other countries who don't have the same access to vaccines.

"To me that's completely unethical."

Tweeting after her appearance, Prof Gurdasani wrote: "I think I probably lost it on BBC News today - I seriously can't believe we're still talking about green lists, red lists & having senior UK scientists minimising the threat posed by variants at this point."

The UK government has repeatedly insisted that the decision on whether to lift final lockdown measures in England on 21 June will be made after data on infection, hospitalisation, vaccination and new variants are assessed.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has, however, warned that the spread of the Delta variant could delay the final stage of his 'roadmap' out of lockdown.

"I don't see anything currently in the data to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap, but we may need to wait," he said last week.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday: "We will share the evidence with the country on the 14th of June to basically explain exactly where we are on infection rates, on hospitalisation, and of course, sadly, on deaths.

"We have to be cautious; we have to look at the data and share it with the country."

What does the data say?

Figures released on Friday show that the UK has recorded its highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases since late March, according to official figures.

A further 6,238 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Friday, which is the highest single-day figure since March 25.

Although rising case numbers is a cause for concern, analysis by the PA news agency shows the majority of major hospital trusts in England are continuing to average no Covid-19 admissions.

However, a handful of trusts in virus hotspots are showing a small rise in numbers, as experts warn that the variant first identified in India, also known as the Delta variant, may lead to an increased risk of hospital admission.

Meanwhile, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest the number of people who had the virus in England has increased by around three-quarters in a week.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 85,600 people in England had the virus in the week to May 29 – equating to around one in 640 people in private households.

Watch: Coronavirus in numbers - UK cases rise by 6,238

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