Downing Street has rejected the call of the Great Barrington group of scientists for an end to lockdown measures, saying their argument rests on an “unproven assumption” that it would be possible to protect the most vulnerable.
The controversial Great Barrington Declaration, which has been signed by more than 7,000 scientists and medics worldwide, calls for a new strategy of allowing younger people to go about their lives as normal while offering “focused protection” to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions who are most at risk from coronavirus.
It has won the support of UK scientists including Professor Karol Sikora, and Tory backbencher Steve Baker has urged MPs to offer it their backing, in a direct challenge to the government’s strategy.
But Boris Johnson’s official spokesman today made clear the prime minister does not accept the fundamental arguments behind the demand.
“We have considered the full range of scientific opinion throughout the course of this pandemic and we will continue to do so,” said the spokesman.
“But what I would also say is that it is not possible to rely on an unproven assumption that it is possible for people who are at lower risk, should they contract the virus, to avoid subsequently transmitting it to those who are at a higher risk and would face a higher risks of ending up in hospital, or worse in an intensive care unit.”
The Declaration warns of “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts” caused by the restrictions imposed by governments around the world in an effort to bring Covid-19 under control.
It warns that lockdown policies are producing “devastating” effects on short and long-term public health, through lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health. And it describes keeping students out of school as “a grave injustice”.
The declaration states that keeping lockdown measures in place until a vaccine is available will “cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed” and calls for schools, shops, hospitality venues, entertainment and sports to open freely to allow “herd immunity” to develop.
But its arguments are not backed by mainstream medical authorities such as the World Health Organisation, and its conclusions have been challenged by many scientists.
Dr Rupert Beale, of the Francis Crick Institute’s Cell Biology of Infection Laboratory, said it was “not a helpful contribution to the debate”.
“This declaration prioritises just one aspect of a sensible strategy – protecting the vulnerable – and suggests we can safely build up ‘herd immunity’ in the rest of the population,” said Dr Beale.
"This is wishful thinking. It is not possible to fully identify vulnerable individuals, and it is not possible to fully isolate them.
“Furthermore, we know that immunity to coronaviruses wanes over time, and re-infection is possible – so lasting protection of vulnerable individuals by establishing ‘herd immunity’ is very unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a vaccine.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said that chief medical officer Chris Whitty had made clear throughout the crisis that the impact on non-Covid medical conditions was being taken into account when devising restrictions.
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