Chris Whitty And Patrick Vallance Urge Caution Despite Removal Of Covid Restrictions

But Boris Johnson insists there is no conflict between the “gung-ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists”.
Chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty, prime minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street.
Chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty, prime minister Boris Johnson and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance during a media briefing in Downing Street.
Tolga Akmen via PA Wire/PA Images

The UK government’s leading scientific advisors on the Covid pandemic have sounded notes of caution as Boris Johnson released his plan for living with the virus.

England’s chief medical officer professor Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, both used markedly different language to the PM as he announced a rolling back of all legal Covid restrictions within weeks.

On Monday, the Johnson announced free Covid tests will end in England from April 1 as part of the government’s “living with Covid” strategy.

In addition, from this Thursday people will no longer have to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid. Currently, the rules state that anyone who has tested positive or has symptoms must isolate for up to 10 days.

At a Downing Street press conference, the scientists were at pains to stress the lifting of restrictions “needs to be a gradual, steady change”, and warned new Covid variants will cause “significant problems”. Whitty even said people should still isolate if they have Covid-19.

But despite the differences in tone, Johnson insisted there was no divide between the “gung-ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists”.

Earlier in the Commons, the PM admitted that the “pandemic is not over”, but said he wanted people to take personal responsibility for dealing with the pandemic, rather than relying on government intervention.

At the press conference, Whitty warned high rates of Omicron remain and “I would urge people in terms of public health advice, and this is very much the government’s position, that people should still if they have Covid try to prevent other people getting it and that means self-isolating”.

“So, that is the public health advice. It would have been the public health advice, and will be the public health advice, for multiple other diseases,” he said, describing it as “standard public health advice for a significant and highly transmissible infection”.

Vallance added that “the one thing this virus has taught you, is not to be cocky”, and said Covid will continue to evolve over the next couple of years.

He told the Downing Street news conference that there was no guarantee that future variants would be less severe.

“This pandemic is not over. The virus is continuing to evolve. It will continue to do so quite fast probably for the next couple of years,” he said.

“There is no guarantee that the next variant is as reduced severity as Omicron. As is it evolves what it is trying to do is to transmit more readily.

“The change in severity is a random by-product. We expect there to be further variants and they could be more severe.”

Johnson said there will likely be another variant that will “cause us trouble”.

Speaking at the press conference, he said: “I don’t want you to think that there’s some division between the gung-ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists, much as it may suit everybody to say so.

“We have a very clear view of this. This has not gone away. We’re able to make these changes now because of the vaccines and the high level of immunity and all the other considerations about Omicron that you’ve seen.

“But we have to face the fact that there could be, likely will be, another variant that will cause us trouble.

“But I believe that thanks to a lot of the stuff that we’ve done, particularly investment in vaccines and vaccine technology and therapeutics, we’ll be in a far better position to tackle that new variant when it comes.”

Routine contact tracing will also end on Thursday, as will the £500 self-isolation payments and the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers about their requirement to isolate.

Changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowance designed to help people through the coronavirus pandemic will end on March 24.

People aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes will be offered another Covid-19 booster vaccine this spring under the plans.

But free universal testing will be massively scaled back from April 1 and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details, while asymptomatic testing will continue for social care staff.

But the Department of Health and Social Care will receive no extra money to deliver the testing.


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