The UK’s decision to end most Covid restrictions on 19 July poses “a danger to the world”, an international group of scientists has warned.
The group, which includes official government advisers to countries including Italy and Australia, says the government is pursuing herd immunity by mass infection.
The warning comes as the UK records its highest number of daily cases since the height of the winter second wave.
Some 51, 870 people tested positive for coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily figure since 15 January.
The international scientists condemned the “reckless” plan by Boris Johnson to press ahead with “freedom day” despite surging infections and rising hospitalisations and deaths.
Earlier Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned the new coronavirus surge could get the UK “into trouble surprisingly fast”.
He urged people to approach the end of lockdown with caution as the number of Covid patients in hospital is currently doubling every three weeks.
Prof Whitty said the key on 19 July – when mask-wearing will no longer be compulsory – was “to take things incredibly slowly”, adding that he fully expected most people to continue to take precautions.
Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic for Friday 16 July, 2021.
WHO warns of ‘strong likelihood’ of more dangerous variants of Covid-19
The emergency committee of the World Health Organisation has warned that there’s a “strong likelihood” for the emergence of new and possibly more dangerous variants of Covid-19.
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had earlier said that the world is now in the early stages of a third wave with the Delta variant being one of the main drivers of the current increase in transmission.
He said that Delta — which was first detected in India — is now in more than 111 countries and it is soon expected to become the dominant variant globally.
After Sydney, Australia puts Melbourne under lockdown
Australian authorities have announced a five-day lockdown for the state of Victoria — which is home to second largest city Melbourne — after a surge in Covid-19 cases.
The state recorded 18 new infections in the past two days.
Melbourne and the rest of Victoria join Sydney in a lockdown as authorities scramble to contain the spread of the virus driven by the Delta variant of Covid-19. This is the fifth lockdown in Melbourne since the pandemic began.
EU medical body says it hasn’t received Covishield application for authorisation
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it still hasn’t received an application from India’s Serum Institute — which manufactures the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot locally called ‘Covishield’ — for authorisation of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Reports last month said that people inoculated with Covishield may face hurdles while travelling to the European Union because it’s not one of the vaccines recognised by the EMA yet.
Serum Institute of India’s chief executive Adar Poonawalla said at the time that he had taken the matter up at the “highest levels”.
Covid third wave may not be as intense as second wave, says Indian medical body
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said that a third wave of Covid-19 will likely hit the country in August and it may not be as intense as the second wave.
Dr Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, told NDTV in an interview that there would be a third wave but that “does not mean that it would be as high or as intense as the second wave.”
The second wave of the pandemic overwhelmed India’s healthcare system as the number of infections and fatalities surged. Hospitals ran out of medical oxygen and flagged a shortage of beds.
Whitty warns surge could get UK ‘into trouble fast’
England’s chief medical officer is warning a new coronavirus surge could get the UK “into trouble surprisingly fast” as restrictions are set to ease on Monday.
Professor Chris Whitty urged people to approach the end of lockdown with caution as the number of Covid patients in hospital is currently doubling every three weeks.
He said the key on 19 July – when mask wearing will no longer be compulsory – was “to take things incredibly slowly”, adding that he fully expected most people to continue to take precautions.
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NHS Covid app wrongly ‘pings’ neighbours
The NHS Covid app is reportedly wrongly telling neighbours to self-isolate after “pinging” people through walls.
Neighbours are being forced to stay home for 10 days despite never coming into contact with a positive case of the virus because the app’s Bluetooth signal is so strong, according to The Telegraph.
It comes after more than 500,000 alerts were sent through the app last week – the highest number so far – raising fears of a “pingdemic”.
Restrictions may return if virus spread becomes ‘unacceptable, says Solicitor General
Ministers could consider reimplementing restrictions if the spread of the virus becomes “unacceptable”, according to the Solicitor General.
Lucy Frazer told Sky News: “I think the health secretary has been very clear, as has the prime minister, that we will see infections rise.
“But the reason why restrictions are being taken away is because of the vaccination programme, which will protect people when those infections do rise.
“Of course, if we get into a situation where it is unacceptable and we do need to put back further restrictions, then that of course is something the government will look at.
“But we are going into the summer, a large number of people have been vaccinated, we’ve had a really tough time, we’re still asking people to take responsibility and we do need to ask ourselves, if we don’t open up now, when will we be able to open up?”
Government recognises ‘significant impact’ of NHS Covid app, says Solicitor General
The Solicitor General has said the government recognises the “significant impact” the NHS Covid app is having on businesses.
Lucy Frazer said as well as relaxing self-isolation rules on 16 August for the fully vaccinated, there are pilots being undertaken which could allow people to start a testing regime rather than self-isolate.
“It (the app) is an important tool because it is important you do isolate if you do come into contact (with a positive case), but I know this is something the government is looking at,” she told Sky News.
“In addition to the changes in mid-August, the government is also carrying out a number of pilots to see whether instead of isolating when you get pinged, you could take a test.
“The government is looking at this very carefully, recognising the significant impact this is having on businesses.”
NHS app shouldn’t always require self-isolation, says expert
Sir Jonathan Montgomery, professor of healthcare law at University College London, said being “pinged” by the NHS app should be a tool used to “help us manage the risk” rather than always requiring self-isolation.
“We need to focus on how much risk actually you might be of having been infected, so your vaccination status is key to that, and then we need to look at your ability to spot whether you have been infected as quickly as possible,” he told LBC.
“The bit you haven’t heard about, which I also think we need to think through, it’s going to make a big difference where you are going when you have been pinged.
“If I have been pinged and I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t infected and I’m taking lateral flow tests, I’m still not going to go and see an elderly relative who is vulnerable or someone who is having cancer care, because I just don’t want to take that risk.
“But I would like to be able to go to work where I can take other precautions, I can be masked, I can wash my hands, because that’s managing the risk, and I think that’s the key thing.
“The ping should help us manage the risk and think about it – it shouldn’t become a yes or no thing, you are either locked up in home or you are out and about.”