SAGE doom-mongers fear that scrapping the remaining Covid rules could leave Britain battling a variant that kills up to a third of the people it infects.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson set to unveil his ‘living with Covid’ strategy on Monday, top scientific advisers for the UK government have raised the alarm about the prospect of a new mutant strain emerging. They warn of a ‘rapid’ increase in Covid cases as free tests and isolation are about to be scrapped.
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The Mail Online reports: Documents released today from the panel’s last meeting, just a day after the PM revealed he intended to scrap all the leftover curbs in England, warned that any sudden change to the rules carries the potential to accelerate the pandemic and trigger a ‘rapid’ rise in cases.
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One paper discussed by SAGE, which delved into potential scenarios that could emerge over the next few years, dismissed the milder nature of Omicron as being a ‘chance’ event and argued that it’s a ‘common misconception’ that viruses evolve to become weaker.
It warned of a ‘realistic possibility’ that a variant could spawn that is just as lethal as other coronaviruses known to strike humans, such as MERS, which has a 35 per cent case fatality rate. Mutations are more likely while circulation of the virus is high, the panel said.
Referencing the document in its minutes, SAGE warned that the scenario — which they’ve already floated before — remained a ‘valid’ possibility. But the report also admitted that it was equally realistic that the virus will mutate to become less lethal over time.
Experts accused SAGE of trying keep up the ‘project fear campaign’, saying people will be ‘frightened’ by some of the speculative scenarios presented and that they should be kept private.
Professor Keith Willison, a chemical biologist at Imperial College London, told MailOnline that any variant having a case-fatality rate anywhere close to 35 per cent was ‘highly unlikely given what we know and have experienced so far’. Sky-high immunity rates, coupled with the milder nature of Omicron, were behind the mild wave, which has seen the current case-fatality rate fall to as low as 0.1 per cent.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association, a trade union for doctors, has said ending all Covid restrictions is ‘not based on current evidence’, arguing that case rates still remained ‘exceptionally high’.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, described the Prime Minister’s plans to scrap the leftover Covid measures as ‘premature’.
He told The Guardian: ‘It clearly hasn’t been guided by data or done in consultation with the healthcare profession’.
Dr Nagpaul went on to warn that case numbers remained high, with an Office for National Statistics survey suggesting that one in 20 people in England were infected with the virus last week alone.
But official figures show Britain’s Omicron wave is continuing to fizzle out, with the outbreak shrinking on all three fronts again today. The UK logged another 47,685 cases, 158 deaths and 1,280 admissions linked to the virus.
Three new papers from the influential group’s last meeting on February 10 were put into the public domain today while three others were published last Friday, including one warning dropping the remaining restrictions would ‘increase anxiety’.
The PM’s announcement last week was widely seen as a desperate ploy to appease hardline anti-lockdown Tory backbenchers and fend off a flurry of no-confidence letters following a spate of allegations about illegal lockdown parties in Downing Street.
Mr Johnson’s blueprint will be checked over by ministers this weekend before being announced on Monday when Parliament returns from recess.
He has already faced vocal opposition to his plans, with senior NHS leaders calling on No10 to park plans to ditch free testing and the legal requirement for the infected to self-isolate.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation – which represents health boards, said ‘now is not the time to take risks’, saying the Government should not ‘wave a magic wand’ and pretend the virus has disappeared.