A government scientist says he has been “told to shut up” by people who don’t want to heed his warnings about exiting the coronavirus lockdown too early.
Professor Adam Finn, from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said his concern about England unlocking too early on 21 June has been met with a barrage of criticism.
He is one of a number of experts calling for scheduled easing in three weeks to be delayed because of the continuing spread of the Indian COVID-19 variant.
Under the next phase of England’s lockdown easing on 21 June, all legal limits on social contact are set to be removed, while nightclubs can reopen and restrictions on weddings would be lifted.
Watch: 21 June unlocking 'hanging in balance', say scientists
Discussing his warning over the unlocking, Prof Finn said: “There are a lot of people who are very fed up about the idea of us even worrying about this.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Since I’ve been saying in the last 24 hours that we should be cautious I’ve been getting lots of messages from people telling me to shut up basically.”
Prof Finn warned that having to reimpose lockdown restrictions would be both worse economically and for public health.
“There’s vulnerability across the country. The idea that somehow the job is done, is wrong,” he said.
“We’ve still got a lot of people out there who’ve neither had this virus… nor yet been immunised, and that’s why we’re in a vulnerable position right now.”
Asked in a separate interview on Tuesday with LBC radio about whether the final easing should take place on 21 June, Prof Finn said: “I fear it may be a bad decision to go with it.”
His comments echoed those of fellow government adviser Professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), who said the 21 June unlocking should be postponed.
On Monday, Prof Gupta, from the University of Cambridge, warned that the UK is in the early stages of a third wave of coronavirus, after more than 3,000 new cases were reported for the sixth day in a row.
“What we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave,” Prof Gupta told the Today programme.
On Tuesday, he repeated his calls to delay the 21 June lifting of restrictions by “a few weeks”.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this.
“As long as it’s clear to people this is not an unlimited extension of the lockdown but actually just a reassessment, that would be realistic.”
He stressed that the race between the virus and the vaccines is still a close one, saying: “We must remember this is a virus that does adapt, and faced with vaccines it will eventually start to make mutations to avoid them even further, and then we could be in an even more precarious situation after that.”
A final decision on whether the lockdown in England will be eased will be made on 14 June.
Environment secretary George Eustice said on Monday the government is not ruling out delaying the scheduled 21 June lockdown easing.
He said: "We can't rule anything out. We know this has been a difficult pandemic, a dynamic situation. We have to make that judgment a couple of weeks before.
"It will only be by then that we will see the impact of the latest easement we made on 17 May."
On Monday, Twickenham Stadium in south west London was transformed into a walk-in vaccination centre as up to 15,000 people were invited to get their first jabs.
The mass vaccination was organised in an effort to counter the spread of the Indian variant in Hounslow, west London.
People aged 18 and over were invited to come forward for their jabs due to a surplus of vaccines, even though nationwide the level is 30 and over.
Also on Monday, the rise in COVID-19 cases in Bolton – one of the areas which has seen a sharp rise in numbers of the Indian variant – showed signs of slowing.
The seven-day rate in Bolton currently stands at 386.7 cases per 100,000, down from 452.8 on May 21, suggesting the recent surge in cases in the town may have peaked.
Health teams in the local authority area have been running surge testing for the virus, along with “surge vaccinations” to boost take-up among everyone who is eligible for the vaccine.
Watch: UK lockdown easing in doubt over Indian variant