Easing lockdown ‘will send virus out of control’, scientists warn

Open letter signed by more than 100 UK-based scientists, many of whom work in infectious disease biology and immunology

June 5, 2020
London face masks
Source: iStock

A group of more than 100 UK-based scientists has published an open letter warning against plans to ease lockdown measures, citing a “very high probability” that it could result in Covid-19 once again spreading “out of control” in the country.

The intervention, in which the scientists criticise the partial reopening of schools and of shops selling non-essential goods, follows news that lockdown measures have been eased even though the UK’s pandemic alert status – previously cited by Boris Johnson, the prime minister, as the test that would determine when to ease restrictions on social interaction – remains at level four out of five.

The full text of the letter, and the signatories, follows:

An open letter against the lifting of the UK’s lockdown:

The UK is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have the highest total number of deaths within Europe, and are just behind the US globally, but with a higher death rate per million than the US itself. Despite a two-month lockdown, we are still experiencing unacceptable daily numbers of deaths, still in the hundreds, and an estimated 8,000 new infections a day in England alone.

We are still in a situation where there is substantial community transmission, and most estimates of the reproduction number of the virus place it only just below 1. If this number exceeds 1, we will experience exponential growth in the number of cases and deaths once again.

Against this backdrop, the UK government is about to embark on a substantial relaxation of the social distancing measures that have been in place, including a partial reopening of schools and the retail sector in England.

There is a very high probability that relaxation of lockdown, coupled with a potential breakdown in public trust, will bring us back into a situation where the outbreak is once again out of control. If this happens, all the societal and financial sacrifices of the lockdown will have gone to waste, and we will likely experience a full-blown second wave. This would inevitably lead to a second lockdown, which could be more damaging and harder to implement.

As a group of UK-based scientists, we urge the government to reconsider, and to follow the science, postponing the relaxation of lockdown. The level of community transmission is still far too high for lockdown to be released, and should not be attempted before we have a substantial and sustained further drop in community transmission.

We need effective test, track and trace capacity to be implemented, transparent reporting of new case diagnoses in community and primary care settings on a daily basis, and the implementation of routine screening for high-risk key worker professions and settings to prevent asymptomatic transmission chains. These steps must be combined with clear government messaging.

Professor Aris Katzourakis, University of Oxford

Professor David Colquhoun FRS, UCL

Professor Alan McNally, institute director, Institute of Microbiology and Infection, University of Birmingham

Professor Stuart Neil, head, department of infectious diseases, King’s College London

Professor Petros Ligoxygakis, University of Oxford

Dr Lewis Spurgin, University of East Anglia

Professor Michael Brockhurst, University of Manchester

Dr David Bonsall, University of Oxford

Dr Sterghios Moschos, Northumbria University

Dr Marc Dionne, Imperial College London

Dr Ravinder Kanda, Oxford Brookes University

Professor Kayla King, University of Oxford

Dr Katerina Kaouri, Cardiff University

Professor Steve Russell, University of Cambridge

Dr Steven Kelly, University of Oxford

Dr Ben Longdon, University of Exeter

Dr Alexander Suh, University of East Anglia

Daniel A. Villar, University of St Andrews

Dr Pierre-Philippe Dechant, York St John University

Dr Bede Constantinides, University of Oxford

Dr Ehmke Pohl, Durham University

Professor Adrian Hayday, FMedSci, FRS, The Francis Crick Institute

Dr Charlotte Odendall, King’s College London

Dr Nik Cunniffe, University of Cambridge

Dr Elisa Granato, University of Oxford

Professor James McInerney, head of the School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham

Dr Karen Liu, King’s College London

Dr Michael Sweet, University of Derby

Professor Nicholas Loman, University of Birmingham

Dr Stephen Griffin, University of Leeds

Dr Tobias Warnecke, MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences and Imperial College London

Dr Rocio Martinez-Nunez, King’s College London

Dr Louise Johnson, University of Reading

Professor James A. R. Marshall, University of Sheffield

Dr Pari Skamnioti, University of Oxford

Dr Ian Goodhead, associate dean, University of Salford

Dr Edward Emmott, University of Liverpool

Professor Robin Weiss FRS, UCL

Dr Markus Gwiggner MRCP, University Hospital Southampton

Dr Bernadette Young MRCP FRCPath, University of Oxford

Dr Tom Williams, University of Bristol

Dr Diarmuid O’Maoileidigh, University of Liverpool

Dr Nathaniel G. N. Milton, Leeds Beckett University

Professor Thomas Richards, University of Oxford

Dr David Cleary, University of Southampton

Dr Davor Pavolovic, University of Birmingham

Dr Iliana Georgana, University of Cambridge

Dr Rebecca J. Hall, University of Nottingham

Dr Andrew Macdonald, head of school, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Leeds

Professor Mark A. Hollywood, Dundalk Institute of Technology

Rebekah Penrice-Randal, University of Liverpool

Professor Greg Hurst, University of Liverpool

Dr Virve EnneUCL

Dr Maria Katsikogianni, University of Bradford

Prof Willem van Schaik, University of Birmingham

Dr Ville-Petri Friman, University of York

Dr Clare Lanyon, Northumbria University

Dr Louisa James, Queen Mary University of London

Professor John Hutchinson, Royal Veterinary College

Dr Kristine ArnvigUCL

Dr Alexander Wilcox, University of California, Davis

Dr Rui Pedro Galao, King’s College London

Dr Rebecca Berrens, University of Oxford

Dr Albert Bolhuis, University of Bath

Professor Simon Harvey, Canterbury Christ Church University

Dr Stefan Koestler, University of Cambridge

Professor Craig Winstanley, University of Liverpool

Dr Konstantin Blyuss, University of Sussex

Professor Ross Fitzgerald, University of Edinburgh

Professor William Wade, King’s College London

Dr Ben Ashby, University of Bath

Professor Aras Kadioglu, University of Liverpool

Dr Louis du Plessis, University of Oxford

Professor Janette Bradley, University of Nottingham

Dr Divya Venkatesh, Royal Veterinary College

Dr Sarah Bauermeister, University of Oxford

Dr Richard Sloan, University of Edinburgh

Dr Natalia Kapel, University of Oxford

Dr Blair L Strang, St George’s, University of London

Dr Justine Rudkin, University of Oxford

Professor Aziz Aboobaker, University of Oxford

Dr Marta Álvarez, University of Bristol

Dr Liam Shaw, University of Oxford

Andrew Balmer, University of Cambridge

Dr Gavin Paterson, University of Edinburgh

Dr Sofia MorfopoulouUCL

Professor Neil Fairweather, Imperial College London

Professor Paul Wigley, University of Liverpool

Dr Alex Best, University of Sheffield

Dr Steven Allain, University of Kent

Dr Izzy Jayasinghe, University of Sheffield

Professor Cynthia Whitchurch, Quadram Institute Bioscience

Dr Helen Alexander, University of Edinburgh

Dr Christopher Davies, Cardiff University

Shadia Khandaker, University of Liverpool

Dr Amr Aswad, University of Oxford

Professor Kenneth Wilson, Lancaster University

Dr Peter Lund, University of Birmingham

Dr Thomas E. Woolley, Cardiff University

Dr Usama Kadri, Cardiff University

Professor Jay Hinton, University of Liverpool

Dr Thomas Patrick, University of Liverpool

Dr Matthew Brook, University of Edinburgh

Dr Lin Wang, UKRI

Professor Richard Birtles, University of Salford

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