In England, the press has been hailing Monday as "Freedom Day," when almost all COVID restrictions, including mask mandates, are due to end. One problem: coronavirus infections in the UK—including Scotland and Wales, which are lifting fewer restrictions—have surged to their highest level in six months. At what organizers described as an "emergency international summit" Friday, scientists urged British authorities to "urgently reconsider" its plans, the Guardian reports. Scientists at the All the Citizens summit, including government advisers from Israel and New Zealand, said they were "stunned" by the British government's decision to pursue what they called a policy of "herd immunity by mass infection," reports the Independent. They warned that the result could be yet another dangerous COVID variant.
The scientists who spoke at Friday's summit had all signed a letter to the medical journal the Lancet that called abandoning restrictions a "dangerous and unethical experiment" that "provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants." The letter, backed by 1,200 scientists, warned that with only around 50% of the British population fully vaccinated, widespread transmission will "disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people," leaving some with long-term health issues. With cases rising rapidly this week, leaders advised caution and "common sense," though they said restrictions would still be lifted on schedule, the AP reports. "This pandemic is not over,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. "We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday the 19th of July to life as it was before COVID." (Authorities in the Netherlands have apologized for lifting restrictions too soon.)