A Tory MP has been accused of peddling “dangerous misconceptions” after calling for an end to England’s coronavirus lockdown.
Sir Christopher Chope made a series of claims about the state of COVID-19 that Stephen Reicher, an adviser to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described as “outright falsehoods”.
Chope is among a group of backbench Conservative lockdown sceptics demanding that lockdown restrictions are lifted once the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated.
During an interview on LBC on Sunday:
1) Chope claimed: “The NHS is coping even with as many COVID patients it’s got, it’s coping very well.
“There is no justification any longer for having a lockdown based on the NHS being saved. The NHS’s job is to save us.”
While daily hospital admissions are now in a welcome decline, the government’s COVID statistics show the situation remains extremely serious.
As of Monday last week, the last date for which data is available, 32,908 people were in UK hospitals with the disease.
This compares to 12 April last year, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, when 21,686 patients were in hospital.
On Saturday, meanwhile, Anthony Gordon, professor of critical care medicine at Imperial College London, said intensive care units were still “full to the rafters” and warned the public would have to wait longer for “relief”.
2) Chope said: "Come 8 March, 15m people [in the top four priority groups of over-70s, care home residents, clinically extremely vulnerable people and frontline NHS and social care staff] will have had their vaccinations for at least three weeks.
"They will have the immunity that comes with that and the restricted ability to transmit the disease.
Watch: Boris Johnson insists vaccines provide 'high degree of protection'
"There’s can’t be any justification beyond 8 March for restricting people’s freedom. Everybody should be free."
However, Sage advisers have previously warned that further “explosive” epidemics are possible if lockdown restrictions are eased before enough people are vaccinated.
And in a climate of new COVID variants, there are growing questions about the extent to which vaccines can prevent transmission. Concerns have been raised, for example, that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab may be less effective against the South African variant.
3) Chope said: "People realise you’re going to have massive civil obedience if people in large numbers, the tens of millions, feel there is no reason any longer to be restricted in their economic and social activities."
Far from "tens of millions", a YouGov survey suggested 85% of Britons supported the national lockdown measures that were once again reimposed last month.
Prof Reicher, a psychologist who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, which advises Sage, appeared on LBC after Chope and later said the Christchurch MP was peddling “dangerous misconceptions”.
He said Chope's claims were "based on a combination of unfounded claims and outright falsehoods". "This is dangerous talk that will cost lives," he added.
Yahoo News UK has approached Chope's office for comment.
He is not the only Conservative lockdown sceptic to have made controversial remarks. Last month, it emerged Sir Desmond Swayne spoke to Save Our Rights UK, a group that argues wrongly that vaccines are “being rushed through safety testing”, and has posted discussions online with conspiracy theorist David Icke.
During an interview in November, he claimed the UK’s coronavirus figures have been “manipulated”, incorrectly stated the UK’s deaths were “typical for this time of year” and told the group his advice was to “persist” with its campaign against lockdown restrictions.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown