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Scientists warn reopening UK too fast could spur third COVID wave

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Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
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With very few people out and about the scene at Bond Street is one of empty desolation and all shops closed as the national coronavirus lockdown three continues on 28th January 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Following the surge in cases over the Winter including a new UK variant of Covid-19, this nationwide lockdown advises all citizens to follow the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Bond Street is one of the principal streets in the West End shopping district and is very upmarket. It has been a fashionable shopping street since the 18th century. The rich and wealthy shop here mostly for high end fashion and jewellery. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Non-essential stores have been shut since 5 January when Johnson announced a third lockdown in England, with similar measures taken across the devolved nations. Photo: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

Scientists in the UK have urged caution in reopening plans, as England heads for its next stage of lockdown easing on Monday. 

Plans to reopen parts of the economy have been green-lit despite data showing some virus hotspots in many parts of the country. 

Prime minister Boris Johnson had urged an approach led by "data not dates" when he laid out his reopening roadmap in March. 

Non-essential stores have been shut since 5 January when Johnson announced a third lockdown in England, with similar measures taken across the devolved nations.

Many of the measures to help support businesses and the economy have been extended until September, however the opening of outdoor areas for pubs and restaurants alongside non-essential retail will be some respite after a hard winter of shutdowns. 

Stephen Griffin, of Leeds University medical school highlighted parts of West Yorkshire, the Black Country and other regions as having high infection rates in a report in the Observer on Sunday. He told the newspaper: "Many people there cannot afford to self-isolate. We need to tackle that issue urgently or the virus will come back again.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown

Other data released this week showed UK could be on the cusp of passing a critical threshold where the proportion of people protected against the coronavirus will reach "herd immunity." Real-time modelling carried out by University College London indicated the share of people who have protection against the virus either through vaccination, previous infection or natural immunity will hit 73.4% on Monday, 12 April.

Herd immunity is seen as the tipping point amid a group where enough resistance is built up within the community to combat the spread of COVID-19 which would force the virus into retreat. 

Warning of the consequences of easing on the current approach, professor Karl Friston, of UCL, told Sky News last week: "If we let up, that threshold will go up again and we will find ourselves below the threshold and it will explode again."

READ MORE: British shoppers set to spend £600m on first day as stores reopen

The warnings come as hopes for a rebound in the economy have intensified. Data released by VoucherCodes — the UK’s largest voucher website — and the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) predicted that 7 million shoppers will hit stores and spend £600m ($823m) in-store on Monday. 

The study forecast a steady rise in shopper numbers and sales as the week progresses.

It is expected to hit a peak on Saturday 17 April, when spending is anticipated to break the billion pound mark, £1bn — a result of 10.8 million people hitting the high street.

Watch: English pubs prepare for reopening of outdoor hospitality