UEA expert says calls to end Covid restrictions are wrong

Covid social distancing sign in Norwich.

A group of scientists has written an open letter calling for restrictions including social distancing and face masks to end by June 21. - Credit: Simon Parkin

A UEA expert has said calls from a group of scientists and academics to end coronavirus restrictions are "wrong" and their public appeal is “not the best way forward”.

In an open letter, the scientists said "a good society cannot be created by obsessive focus on a single cause of ill-health" and that Covid-19 "no longer requires exceptional measures of control in everyday life".

The 22 signatories - who include Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at University of Oxford, and Professor Karol Sikora from the medicine school at the University of Buckingham - say mandatory face coverings, physical distancing and mass community testing should end no later than June 21.

Professor Paul Hunter, from University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “My personal view is what they have done is not the best way forward.”

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school.

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school. - Credit: Archant

He added: “The signatories to this letter were arguing against social distancing even last year. It’s the same group that has been largely anti-lockdown from the beginning. 

“There are a number of issues here. If things continue to get better, and if the vaccine roll out continues well, then it might well be the case that by the summer we could be in a position where we don’t need to have restrictions. But there is a lot that could happen between now and then.”

Step four of the government's roadmap for England currently states that all legal limits on social contact will be removed by June 21 at the earliest, when restrictions on large events such as festivals are also expected to ease.

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Prof Hunter said: “It is still too early to know whether the April 12 relaxation hasn’t tipped us the wrong way, we will have some idea by the end of this week, though my personal view is that it is not going to be problematic. Then we will have our next phased relaxation in mid-May and then see what happens then. 

“The fly in the ointment of course is the new variants and what they will do and I don’t think any of us can be certain about that at the moment. 

People wear a mask as they leave a shop amid the gradual lifting of restrictions to ease out of lockdown.

People wear a mask as they leave a shop amid the gradual lifting of restrictions to ease out of lockdown. - Credit: PA

“I must confess to being more than a little nervous about this Indian variant that is now spreading within the UK.” 

The letter and Prof Hunter's comments come after scientists advising the government said there is nothing currently in the data to suggest that people will not be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer, though coronavirus cases may well rise as the autumn approaches.