The UK recorded more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in six months Friday amid a warning from the British government’s top medical adviser that the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 could hit “quite scary” levels within weeks.
Government figures showed another 51,870 confirmed lab cases, the highest daily number since mid-January. Infections have surged in recent weeks, mainly among unvaccinated younger people, as a result of the far more contagious delta variant and the continued easing of lockdown restrictions.
Despite the increase, the British government plans Monday to lift all remaining legal restrictions on social contact in England and to ditch social-distancing guidelines, as well as the legal requirement for people to wear masks in most indoor settings, including shops, trains, buses and subways.
The Government is hoping that the rapid roll-out of vaccines will keep a lid on the number of people becoming seriously ill – a stance that some leading international scientists at an “emergency international summit” critiqued as “reckless”.
The group, which includes advisers to the governments of Italy, New Zealand and Taiwan, said they joined forces through a “sense of urgency” to warn of the global consequences of allowing the delta variant to spread rapidly through the British population.
The scientists warned that the combination of high infection prevalence and high levels of vaccination “create the conditions in which an immune escape variant is most likely to emerge”.
One of the co-signatories to Friday’s statement, Dr William A. Haseltine of the New York-based think tank Access Health International, went further, describing the seeming strategy of herd immunity as “murderous” and “unconscionable”.
Families representing many of those who have died from COVID-19 in the UK also joined in the criticism of the Conservative government’s plan.
“The overwhelming scientific consensus is that lifting restrictions on Monday will be disastrous, and bereaved families know firsthand how tragic the consequences of unlocking too early can be,” said Jo Goodman, co-founder of COVID19 Bereaved Families for Justice. “There is a real fear that once again the government’s thinking is being driven by what’s popular rather than the interests of the country.”
Other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are taking more cautious steps out of lockdown.