Scientists have hit out at the government’s refusal to enforce shielding rules for the most vulnerable as COVID cases continue to rise.
Advice published last week stated that the more than two million people who shielded during the peak of the pandemic do not yet need to shield again – despite what tier their area is in.
But the move triggered a backlash among experts and some charities, which said vulnerable people may feel forced to go to work.
Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine, University of Leeds, described recent numbers, which showed the highest daily figure for cases, as a “worrying trend”.
He said: “Critically, I am aghast that shielding remains paused. Whilst it saddens me to see that this is once again our only recourse to protect those most vulnerable to COVID, they must be enabled both socially and financially to protect themselves once more.
“Whatever transpires as a result of policy, it must be accompanied by a return to the commitments made earlier this year. Most importantly, testing must be overhauled.”
His comments come after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam expressed concern for the rate of change in infections among the over-60s across the nation.
He said at a press conference on Tuesday: “I really want to emphasise that it is the over-60s that really worries us most because these are the people who become severely ill with COVID-19, they are more likely to be admitted to hospital, if they are admitted to hospital they stay in hospital for longer and sadly they are more difficult to save.”
Watch: Hundreds of thousands ‘could be told to shield’
Griffin hit out at the government’s testing programme, and said there was “no evidence” that the tier system for local lockdowns worked in bringing down numbers.
Arguing for tougher restrictions, Griffin said: “It is difficult to understand why urgent action is not being taken on a national level, as advised by Sage, independent Sage and many other observers.
“This is a UK wide problem. If we wait for other areas to reach prevalence as we are seeing in the north of England then the situation will be grim indeed.”
He added: “The pain of the previous lockdown has been squandered, the summer has been wasted. The commitment to suppressing cases and organising effective testing was not met.”
Oxford University scientists this week shared a model that identifies the most at-risk people from the disease.
Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said the research showed that shielding just 5% of those people could reduce deaths by as much as 75%.
The government have said that rather than force vulnerable people to stay at home – risking feelings of isolation and fearful of leaving the