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Johnson contradicts scientific advice on lockdown easing

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Boris Johnson was in buoyant mood today when he spoke to journalists at the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies plant in Billingham

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has struck an optimistic tone about the sequenced easing of the lockdown from late February onwards, despite warnings from leading scientists about a quick exit from coronavirus-related restrictions.

Speaking at the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies plant in Billingham (Teeside), where the new Novavax vaccine is being manufactured, the PM said he is “optimistic” ahead of the launch of a “roadmap” for easing England’s lockdown.

The PM’s so-called roadmap is set to be unveiled on February 22, and it will initially “prioritize” the reopening of schools from March 08.

Johnson hinted that “non-essential” retail would be next, followed by “hospitality” venues, but he didn’t set out a precise timeline.

“I will be trying to set out as much as I possibly can in as much detail as I can, always understanding that we have to be wary of the pattern of disease”, the PM said at the Billingham plant.

“We don’t want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret”, he added.

But the PM’s optimism has been sharply, albeit indirectly, criticized by some of the country’s leading scientists.

Dr Sarah Pitt, a virologist at the University of Brighton, has warned against treating Covid-19 as just another “type of flu”.

This was a direct criticism of Health Secretary, Matt Hancock’s interview with the Daily Telegraph (February 12), in which he predicted Covid-19 will become a “treatable disease” by the end of the year and one the country can live with “like we do the flu”.

Talking to the BBC, Dr Pitt asserted that Covid-19 is not the “same sort of virus” as the flu and that it is a “very, very nasty” disease.   

“The mutations, the variations, that we're seeing are becoming more infectious, not less infectious and a bit more dangerous, not less dangerous", she added.

Echoing that view, Professor Steven Riley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling (SPI-M), told BBC Radio 4 (February 13): "If for some reason we were to choose to just pretend it [coronavirus] wasn't here anymore, then there is the potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now".

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