Social distancing should end in June to give people 'control of their lives', scientists say

·3-min read
 People flock to pubs and bars on Stevenson Square in Manchester.
Pubs and restaurants with outdoor space have been allowed to reopen as lockdown restrictions are eased in the UK. (Photo by Adam Vaughan / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
People flock to pubs and bars on Stevenson Square in Manchester. (Sipa USA)

A group of leading scientists and academics have called on the government to abolish social distancing for good in June.

An open letter, signed by 22 experts and published in the Telegraph, urges MPs to allow people “to take back control of their own lives”.

The group also criticised “confused and contradictory” messages from ministers and scientific advisers, claiming they are exaggerating the real threat of the disease.

The letter cites real-world data showing the vaccine program has reduced the risk of death by 98% and hospitalisations by more than 80% and that therefore COVID is being turned into a “mild” disease in the UK, like flu.

Read: Pub staff 'more likely to catch COVID' than shop or gym workers

It comes as half the UK population has received at least one vaccine dose while daily deaths hit single figures this week for the first time since September.

The group is calling for all restrictions to be lifted on 21 June when Boris Johnson’s roadmap will enter its final stage.

“We are being told simultaneously that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true,” the letter says.

“We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines and less to theoretical risks of vaccine escape and/or surge in a largely vaccinated population."

Watch: Oxford Street shoppers heckled over face masks as thousands protest lockdown

Signatories of the letter include Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, and Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford have also signed the letter.

The signatories also say mass community testing is unnecessary and favour a more targeted approach as well as measures like encouraging hand-washing and surface cleaning.

They also call for COVID vaccine passports to be scrapped, saying the virus "no longer requires exceptional measures of control in everyday life".

 Pedestrian Zone and Covid-19 Temporary Restrictions signs in Frith Street, Soho, Central London.
Restaurants, pubs and bars in England have reopened for outdoor service only, and several streets in Soho have been closed to traffic at certain times of the day to allow for street seating. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Pedestrian zone and COVID-19 temporary restrictions signs in Soho in central London. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

It comes after scientists advising the government said there is nothing currently in the data to suggest that people will not be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer, although coronavirus cases may rise as the autumn approaches.

Asked about mask-wearing in the coming months, one source told PA that vaccines are working so well, and there is such good vaccine uptake among members of the public, that things will return to much more like normal life over the summer months, with cases dropping very low in May.

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However, masks and possibly other measures may be needed next autumn and winter if cases surge, they said.

Nevertheless, the general view among scientific advisers is that the spike in cases in winter will be lower than in the past due to high levels of immunity and vaccination.

The source said that what happens will depend on people's behaviours as well as measures such as increased ventilation indoors, good hand hygiene and whether people isolate when they display symptoms.

Watch: What 'freedom' really looks like come 21 June is a moving target