Lifting lockdown before vaccine rollout is a 'terrible mistake', expert claims

George Martin
·3-min read
Pedestrians wearing masks because of the novel coronavirus pandemic walk past the window of a closed shop displaying Christmas decoration in the centre of Manchester, northwest England, on November 26, 2020. - London will escape the tightest restrictions once England's national coronavirus lockdown ends next week, the government said Thursday, but major cities including Manchester and Birmingham face at least two more weeks of tough rules. England will return to a regional tiered system when the national regulations end on December 2, with those areas suffering the worst case rates entering the highest Tier 3. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Pedestrians wearing masks in Manchester. (Getty)

The government is making a “terrible mistake” by lifting lockdown before a vaccine can be used to fight coronavirus, a former Sage advisor has warned.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the scientific community was “very concerned” by Boris Johnson’s decision to return to a tiered approach.

Openshaw, an ex-member of Sage, the government’s scientific advisory panel, said he believes the prime minister should have waited for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval before making the move.

"We scientists are very concerned indeed about relaxation of precautions at this stage,” he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Conservative Party leader and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, wears a face mask leaving 10 Downing Street in London, England, on November 26, 2020. Johnson has been self-isolating for the last two weeks following notification by the National Health Service's 'track and trace' programme of contact at a Downing Street function with a fellow Conservative Party MP who later tested positive for coronavirus. The government is today meanwhile announcing which of the three 'tiers' of covid-19 restrictions will apply to local authorities across England at the end of the current national lockdown next week. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street. (Getty)

“The rates are still too high, there's too many cases coming into hospitals, too many people dying.

"And if we take the brakes off at this stage, just when the end is in sight, I think we would be making a huge mistake.

"We've all sacrificed so much, everyone has sacrificed enormously in order to get the transmission rate down. With only a few months to go until vaccines start to have an effect I think it would just be a terrible mistake.

"I think we must keep this under control and just behave very, very sensibly. It's extremely difficult to get this right and I don't envy the politicians."

Read more
The Tier 3 COVID lockdown rules explained
The Tier 2 COVID lockdown rules explained
What tier are you in? Full list of lockdown areas

Asked about the different efficacy rates for the various vaccines currently being considered by regulators, Openshaw said he would he happy to have any vaccine that has been approved.

He said: "I would personally be happy to have any vaccine that's been through the regulatory scrutiny that these trials are currently undergoing.

“If my GP rings me and says I've got an approved vaccine I really don't care which one it is."

He said he would be surprised if a vaccine was available by next week, but that there could be "an announcement" within the next fortnight.

"We'll have to wait and see. Mustn't be rushed, it has to be safe."

Watch: Prime minister facing Commons rebellion from Tory backbenchers over tiers

It comes as Boris Johnson is facing a major Conservative rebellion, which could leave the government struggling to pass Tuesday’s motion on the three-tier system.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy warned on Sunday that although Labour had "never voted against health restrictions", there needed to be "proper support put in place so that people can comply".

"We very much share the view that there need to be public restrictions... we're still very concerned particularly in parts of the north of England like mine about the pressure on hospitals,” she said.

"So we don't share the view of those Tory backbenchers that you can just let this virus rip through the population with the damage that that would do, but we want clarity from the government on two things.

"First of all, is this sufficient to get control of the virus – we're meeting the chief medical officer tomorrow afternoon to discuss that – and secondly whether people will actually be able to comply with this?

"We need to see proper support put in place so that people can comply, otherwise we could end up in a worse situation in January and nobody wants that."

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter