British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been told his plan to end the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test result is “dangerous and risky”.
From March 24, people in England will no longer have to stay away from the public if they contract the virus, as the prime minister said the rule would not be extended when the current regulations expire.
Mr Johnson also left the door open for the date to be brought forward, if the science supports it.
But an immunologist predicted a “significant” surge in coronavirus cases after the rule lapses, and said ministers are playing with people’s health to please back bench Conservative MPs who are demanding a full return to normal.
Professor Denis Kinane, founding scientist of Cignpost Diagnostics, a firm which supplies coronavirus tests, said data he collected suggested that up to a third of cases displayed high levels of infectivity until day 11.
“We shouldn’t be kidding ourselves that there might not be another variant that comes along, that it might be worse than Omicron and Delta,” Prof Kinane told The National.
“For some reason, they [the government] have made the decision that for economic reasons or for political reasons, things are all over, so let’s get going and just open the doors. And that could be risky, it could be dangerous.
“The last time we were this flippant was in November before Omicron and then previously we were a little bit lapsed when it came into Delta.”
He said while it is clear the government needs to find a way to return the public to a normal way of living, dispensing with all measures was not a sensible way to go.
Prof Kinane also said the lifting of the face mask rule was premature. Earlier this month, the prime minister announced that masks would no longer be mandatory in public places.
The work from home order was also lifted, allowing millions of people in England back to their work places.
Asked if it was a good idea to lift the regulation making self-isolation mandatory for Covid positive people, he said: “I shouldn’t happen. They shouldn’t be going out and about and mixing in bars and chatting to people and all the rest of it. I don’t think that’s correct.”
“I don’t see the reason for disbanding [the rule],” he said.
“I think it’s a bit early, and given it’s a bit early I think it’s a bit more risky than it needs to be. They’ll have to do it at some point, but I’m not convinced that it should be done [now] and I don’t think they should be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“It’s a political decision. I think the backbenchers are very keen that we loosen up with restrictions.
“There will be a significant increase – and by significant I mean it will be clearly different from if we did wear masks and if we did isolate etc. With any increase in Covid there will also be an increase in deaths.”
He said scientists at Cignpost, which supplies tests to clients in the banking, travel, film and defence industries, were “spooked” by the rapid spread of Omicron.
The window between infection and passing on the virus is much shorter than that of Delta, he said.
Last week, the government came under fire for its new, more relaxed approach to the pandemic after Health Secretary Sajid Javid compared the virus to the flu.
Mr Javid said it was vital to learn to live with the virus in the way life goes on each winter during flu outbreaks.
But Prof Kinane said that such a stance risked downplaying the magnitude of Covid-19, which has contributed to the deaths of more than 155,690 people across the UK.
He also pointed to the fact that there is a much smaller band of the population deemed to be vulnerable to the flu than those at severe risk from the coronavirus.
“It’s not up to the government to decide [that] something is endemic,” he said. “It’s actually a scientific, medical decision based on the severity of the disease, the prevalence of the disease and the infectivity of the disease.
“So, you don’t call Covid the same as the flu just because you decided it’s going to be, because we want to get people back to work," he said.
"If Covid is the same as the flu we would never have had so many people in hospital and such widespread devastation in our health service. It’s still got the potential to hospitalise people in a way the flu virus never has.
“We’ve seen enough damage from Covid, in terms of long Covid and also people who’ve got post-viral from Covid and people who’ve actually been very ill with Covid through lack of ability to breathe and [suffering] damage to their lungs," Prof Kinane said.
"So, Covid is not the same as the flu and it’s not for the government to decide that the morbidity for Covid is the same as the morbidity for flu because it’s not.”