'It's too early': Fears grow in Leeds over plans to lift all Covid-19 restrictions on July 19 'Freedom Day'

A virology expert from the University of Leeds has said he is “very worried” about lifting all restrictions on 'freedom day' and joined those calling for caution over plans to make the wearing of face-masks voluntary.

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 9:05 am

Prof Mark Harris warned that Covid-19 is still not under control and urged the Government to “rein back” on its plan to remove all restrictions on July 19.

Last night Prime Minister said people will be left to use their own judgment on how to reduce the risk posed by the virus, rather than expecting the Government to set out restrictions in law.

The approach is expected to mean that from 'freedom day' in a fortnight's time, face masks will no longer be required in many settings and social distancing restrictions will be removed in pubs and restaurants.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Shoppers in Leeds on May bank holiday. Picture: Steve Riding

But Prof Harris told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “I think it’s too early. The data says it’s on the increase. The virus is not being controlled at the moment. By relaxing the restrictions we are going to be completely unable to control the spread of this virus.

“We have got to rein back on that.”

He added: “We were always told they were going with the data not dates and now they’ve arbitrarily picked June 19 and are going to take all the breaks off.”

He warned relaxing all restrictions will have a “really detrimental impact” on the population, with such high levels of virus around.

Prof Mark Harris, of the University of Leeds' school of molecular and cellular biology

Even with the successful vaccine programme, Prof Harris stressed vaccines are not 100 per cent effective and there is still a “large quantity” of people who are susceptible to infection.

He warned leaving the wearing of masks down to personal responsibility is “very dangerous”.

“There is good evidence to show that masks have helped to prevent transmission of the virus up until now and if you suddenly throw them away, then you are going to rapidly increase the rates of transmission.

“People can be asymptomatic and don’t know they’re infected and can spread the virus to other people - masks help prevent that. Not 100 per cent, of course, but they do help prevent transmission.”

Valentina Viduto, chairwoman of the Leeds-based Long Covid-19 Foundation. Picture: Gary Longbottom

And with increased transmission comes the risk of more variants, he said.

“Variants occur when the virus grows and replicates in people so the more that that is happening, the more likely we are to get variants.

“What happens if a variant comes along resistant to the vaccines? We could have to start from square one with a new vaccine which is quite scary.

“We’ve been through so much and come so far, it feels like we’re throwing it all away.”

Prof Harris said Covid-19 cannot be compared to the likes of seasonal flu.

“It’s a completely different situation. We don’t have immunity, we haven’t learned to live with the virus yet - it’s only been around for a year and a half.”

“It’s an unprecedented situation,” he added.

His views were echoed by the new West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin who cited a recent study showing the majority of passengers would lose confidence in using public transport if facemasks were no longer a requirement.

She said: "Cases are rising sharply and lifting the requirement to wear masks now would put people at risk, especially if they are young and haven’t had both their vaccine doses.

“We need to protect people from the debilitating effects of long-Covid whilst supporting businesses to better implement ventilation of their premises where required.”

Valentina Viduto, the founder of Leeds-based charity the Long Covid-19 Foundation, said she feared many more were likely to develop long-Covid if infection rates continue to rise, with the more transmissible Delta variant and the removal of restrictions such as masks.

She urged people to continue to protect themselves - and others - by wearing a mask indoors and outdoors.

“Masks serve as a reminder that we are still in a middle of pandemic and with the Delta variant we are far from the 'freedom day',” she said, adding: “Within our long-Covid sufferers' community we strongly believe this is a rule that is relaxed too early.”

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.