Delay to June 21 reopening ‘would be weeks, not months’, says scientist

Any delay to the June 21 reopening in England would likely be by weeks rather than months, an expert has said, as he questioned why people appear “absolutely obsessed” with needing a date for restrictions ending rather than following the data.

Professor Robin Shattock also warned that despite the continued success of the vaccine rollout, the public should not see themselves as living in “Fortress UK” because the rest of the world needs to get access to jabs too.

Professor Peter Openshaw, who joined him for the Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday, branded it “unethical” not to share surplus vaccines with the rest of the world.

He called for the “over purchasing that we and others have done” to be addressed “so as to reduce transmission, and reduce disease amongst those who will definitely benefit a great deal (from vaccines)”.

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Prof Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London said: “We’ve done incredibly well in the UK with rollout of vaccines but we can’t think of ourselves as Fortress UK.

“We need to get those vaccines rolled out to the rest of the world.”

When it comes to the June 21 proposed unlocking date, Prof Shattock said lifting restrictions too quickly could mean we “lose those gains that we’ve got” and said any delay in moving to reopen would likely not be very lengthy.

He said: “I think we still need to look very carefully at the data.

“I’m still concerned about having enough people having vaccines in the areas particularly where we are seeing higher levels of the Delta variant.

“And so we just need to be careful we don’t unlock too quickly and lose those gains that we’ve got.

“If we are talking about a delay, we’re talking about a delay of weeks, not months anymore, that could be very significant.

“So I’m not so sure why everybody is absolutely obsessed by fixing it to a date and not fixing it to the data.”

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He said he would want to see that enough people had had vaccines, ideally both doses, particularly in areas with higher levels of the Delta variant.

He added that it was also important for there not to be evidence of “significant breakthrough infections” with people who have had both doses.

Prof Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London and a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said it is important to look for “early markers of severity and impact” showing any rise in hospital admissions and severe disease.

He said: “I think that to me is the thing which we need to look out for over the next week or two.”

As for the long term it will be a case of “watching the virus throw up new variants and us countering with updating of the vaccines”, he said, but added that he hoped Covid-19 might “run out of options”.

Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at UCL and a member of both the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and Independent Sage, cautioned that a third wave remains a risk.

Asked why people should be concerned about a third wave, given that the UK is in a different situation to last year with a large-scale vaccine rollout, she said: “Two reasons.

“One is the higher transmission, the more mutations and therefore the higher the likelihood of a variant that could undermine vaccination.

“And secondly the issue of long Covid, which is very debilitating.

“So it’s not just a question of hospitalisation and death, but it’s many, many months of people living in a miserable situation and that’s a hit for the economy too.”