In a letter to the Lancet, doctors have called the removal of mitigation measures such as face masks both ‘illogical and unethical’.
In a letter published in the Lancet, over 100 doctors have expressed their concerns over the UK government’s plans to remove the legal requirement for face-masks, social distancing and other restrictions directed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. There is clearly a third wave of the virus in the UK with the latest data from the Office for National Statistics showing that in England, an estimating that 332,900 or 1 in 160 of the population was likely to be infected with COVID-19, in the week ending 3 July 2021. In the Lancet letter, the doctors have called the removal of need for mitigation measures on the so-called ‘freedom day” (19 July 2021) both dangerous and premature. They note how population immunity is unlikely to be achieved without much higher uptake of vaccines and that the current measures should remain in place to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infection. Moreover, a scientific consensus published in October 2020, outlines the flaws associated with relying on population immunity and that uncontrolled transmission among younger people poses a significant morbidity risk.
The letter makes five clear arguments against removal of the current restrictions. Firstly, that unmitigated transmission will disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people. Secondly, high transmission within schools will lead to a major disruption to education. Thirdly, the doctors note how even the government’s own modelling suggests that removal of restrictions could serve to increase the number of COVID-19 variants, some of which could become vaccine resistant. In fact, in support of this viewpoint, Public Health England has recorded an increase in cases of the delta variant and there are now a small number of a delta AY.1 sub lineage emerging. In addition, a Public Health England briefing document produced on 9 July, details that there have been 257 deaths from the delta variant, with 118 (116 in people aged over 50 years of age) of these deaths among individuals who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The fourth point raised in the letter is that the current strategy will have a significant impact on health services and exhausted healthcare staff. The final reason again re-opening is that those living in deprived communities are more exposed to and at risk of COVID-19, with the result that the most vulnerable have been marginalised.
The letter concludes that any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical. It ends with a plea to the government for a delay in re-opening until adolescents have been vaccinated which will ensure that everyone is protected and will make further lockdowns much less likely.