Scientists are challenging the UK government over what they see as weak efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 200 scientists have addressed the government in an open letter urging tougher measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 which, in the UK, has caused a single-day record, with 14 new deaths for a total of 35, according to BBC.
UPDATE on coronavirus (#COVID19) testing in the UK:
As of 9am on 15 March, a total of 40,279 have been tested:
Across the UK, 35 patients who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have sadly died. pic.twitter.com/ElnkxRnbJC
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) March 15, 2020
“Under unconstrained growth, this outbreak will affect millions of people in the next few weeks. This will most probably put the NHS at serious risk of not being able to cope with the flow of patients needing intensive care as the number of ICU beds in the UK is not larger than that available in other neighbouring countries with a similar population,” the letter signed by 229 scientists read.
“Going for ‘herd immunity’ at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary,” the specialists added, in a rebuke of comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser.
“By putting in place social distancing measures now, the growth can be slowed down dramatically, and thousands of lives can be spared,” the scientists, including geneticists, biologists, and physicists, wrote. “We consider the social distancing measures taken as of today as insufficient, and we believe that additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately, as it is already happening in other countries across the world.”
But while other European countries have begun to go on lockdown as the number of confirmed cases and death tolls climb, UK efforts have not been as strict. More than 60,000 people attended a horse race in southwest England on Friday and other events had not been postponed even amid reports of escalating numbers in neighboring countries.
Total lunacy. https://t.co/xWkAwMeztK
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 15, 2020
After initially saying it would not have mass testings on the population, the UK government said in a statement that “in the coming weeks, we will be introducing further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms” adding, however, that “if we introduce this next stage too early, the measures will not protect us at the time of greatest risk but could have a huge social impact.”
Speaking with BBC Radio on Friday, Vallance said that one of “the key things we need to do” is to “build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission.”
Anthony Costello, former director of maternal, child, and adolescent health at the World Health Organization, was among many who slammed the proposal.
Unlike all other countries, the UK strategy aims to build herd immunity by allowing the steady spread of #COVID19. The government argue it will block a second peak in several months time. Here are EIGHT questions about this HERD IMMUNITY strategy: (THREAD)
— Anthony Costello (@globalhlthtwit) March 13, 2020
Amid the immediate backlash, the Department of Health said Vallance’s comments had been misinterpreted.
“Herd immunity is not part of our action plan, but is a natural by-product of an epidemic. Our aims are to save lives, protect the most vulnerable, and relieve pressure on our NHS,” a spokesperson said, according to the BBC “We have now moved out of the contain phase and into delay, and we have experts working round the clock. Every measure that we have or will introduce will be based on the best scientific evidence.”
You’re literally doing nothing to halt the spread of Coronavirus. https://t.co/LvjND8h1tW
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 15, 2020
“What we will do is listen to all the credible scientists and we will look at all the evidence,” Matt Hancock, the UK secretary of state for health and social care, said on Sunday. “Herd immunity is not our goal or policy, it’s a scientific concept.”
Another letter to the government was reportedly penned by behavioral scientists.
NEW: UK behavioural scientists have also written to the govt expressing concern about the idea of ‘behavioural fatigue’ – the idea that more stringent #COVID19 measures shouldn’t be introduced too soon because people will tire of them at the crucial point ? pic.twitter.com/5eZL5c2J3d
— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) March 14, 2020
Some people, however, questioned the credibility of the letter from the scientists and the “agenda” behind the criticism.
Hate to be ~that~ person, but that widely-reported letter by UK scientists uses two references. One is an article published on Medium by a man who runs Course Hero, an online learning/education platform. Isn’t one of the first rules of journalism to ask: what’s the agenda? https://t.co/mdiNGUNfz7
— Emily Dinsmore (@EmilyRDinsmore) March 16, 2020
If this is anything like the 200+ “scientists) who signed a letter to the Govt then it’s full of obscure and completely irrelevant PhD subject students, graduates and people with zero expertise in the matter. Also student bodies in the UK are overwhelmingly Labour biased
— Juancornetto (@Juan_Cornetto) March 16, 2020
Wasn’t it that the BBC reported on 200 so-called scientists that presented a signed protest letter to HMG, who half were students, the other half didn’t have a degree in virology & most came from the same university and the BBC has the audacity to call out social media!
— ??Churchill?? #StopPanicBuyingAssholes (@LiberumOratioUK) March 16, 2020
Members of the British public expressed their frustration with the U.K.’s approach so far and took to Twitter to vent, sending #WhereisBoris to begin trending, referring to Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party.
DEAR EVERYONE IN THE UK
Because Boris Johnson our obviously well “trusted” “Prime Minister” can’t make his mind up. Let’s do it for him. Let’s go on Lockdown to prevent the spread. Don’t go to school, uni, work. Mass gatherings are banned. Before it’s too late! #WhereIsBoris
— Alex Phillips (@Alexpofficial_) March 15, 2020
im genuinely confused as to why the UK government is not communicating with the public at all #WhereIsBoris
— sarah (@sarahdvv) March 15, 2020
no question: there’s lots of uncertainty here, and there are costs to every approach. But early evidence suggests significant EARLY measures are absolutely the key (see Osterholm’s work on this), rather than thinking about herd immunity or behavioral fatigue.
— Teppo Felin (@teppofelin) March 14, 2020
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