Three reasons why lifting lockdown straight away is an 'appalling idea', according to Sage adviser

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
Shoppers, some wearing face masks, walk along a busy Oxford Street in London, England, on December 5, 2020. London has returned to so-called Tier 2 or 'high alert' coronavirus restrictions since the end of the four-week, England-wide lockdown last Wednesday, meaning a reopening of non-essential shops and hospitality businesses as the festive season gets underway. Rules under all three of England's tiers have been strengthened from before the November lockdown, however, with pubs and restaurants most severely impacted. In London's West End, meanwhile, Oxford Street and Regent Street were both packed with Christmas shoppers this afternoon, with the retail sector hoping for a strong end to one of its most difficult years. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A Sage adviser has set out why 'letting the virus rip' by lifting restrictions once vulnerable groups have been vaccinated is an 'appalling idea'. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson, ahead of announcing his “road map” out of England’s coronavirus lockdown on Monday, has already warned this will be “cautious” with restrictions eased “in stages”.

Nonetheless, he is still facing pressure from lockdown sceptics on his Conservative backbenches to completely lift it as soon as possible.

The COVID Recovery Group has long been calling for all restrictions to be removed when people in the priority groups – over-50s, care home residents, clinically extremely vulnerable people, over-16s with underlying health conditions and frontline health and social care workers – have received a vaccine. The government’s target date for this is the end of April.

Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday, chair Mark Harper said: “Our view is once you’ve vaccinated those people and reduced hospitalisations by 80%, then you can remove the domestic restrictions."

In contrast, Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) adviser Prof Stephen Reicher said it would be an “appalling idea” to “open everything up and let the infection rip” even after the vulnerable groups have been vaccinated.

Watch: Boris Johnson says lockdown lift will be 'cautious' (from Wednesday)

Speaking at an Independent Sage briefing on Friday, he set out three reasons why:

1. Younger people still get infected...

...and still have to go to hospital.

As of Friday, 128,566 people in the 18 to 64 age group had been admitted to hospital with COVID in England (see below) since the start of the pandemic – most of which has been spent under some form of restrictions.

(coronavirus.data.gov.uk)
(coronavirus.data.gov.uk)

2. 'Long COVID'

Prof Reicher said opening up too soon could also “condemn” some people to the long-term effects of having the virus, also known as “long COVID”.

Research released on Friday showed one in four patients have trouble coping at home after discharge from hospital.

3. 'Free pass' for new vaccine-resistant variants

Prof Reicher also warned “letting the virus rip” could eventually damage the effectiveness of vaccines.

"If you let the infection rip, let it circulate, in effect you give it a free pass to find new ways around the vaccines. The more infections, the more mutations, the higher the probability of new variants getting past the vaccines."

Conservative MP Mark Harper pauses during the launch of his Conservative Party leadership campaign in London on June 11, 2019. - Ten Conservative MPs gathered enough support to qualify by Monday's deadline for the race to replace May, who quit as the party's leader on Friday over her failure to take Britain out of the European Union on time. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)        (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Conservative MP Mark Harper, chair of the COVID Recovery Group, has been calling for lockdown to be completely lifted by the end of April. (AFP via Getty Images)

He concluded: "Those who say open up immediately… are actually suggesting something incredibly damaging, ignoring the realities."

Independent Sage, meanwhile, has said shops and pubs should only reopen in an area when it has less than 10 cases per 100,000 people.

Read more:

Two-fifths of Brits won't travel anywhere until they've had the COVID vaccine, survey reveals

UK COVID infections drop to less than half level seen at start of lockdown

It also said schools should only reopen when infections are less than 100 per 100,000 people across all regions.

So far, the only thing Boris Johnson has confirmed is an 8 March target date “at the earliest” for schools to reopen.

Watch: What is long COVID?