Updated 1 hour ago
Medical leaders have condemned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s «irresponsible» decision to proceed with lifting the lockdown in England despite the continuing spread of Covid-19 infections.
The British Medical Association (BMA) warned of «grave consequences» after the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that most mandatory restrictions will end next week.
At a press conference in Downing Street, Johnson acknowledged that the pandemic was «not over yet» and appealed to people to proceed with caution.
At the same time, he said delaying the easing of restrictions until the fall could risk reopening school doors as schools return from summer vacation and people spend more time indoors as the weather turns colder.
However, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA board, said that by moving forward on July 19, the government was reneging on its promise to be driving data and influencing the NHS.
Removing restrictions while a large proportion of the population is not yet fully vaccinated, he said, would allow the virus to «re-tighten its grip,» leading to increased infections and hospitalizations and putting more lives at risk.
«It is irresponsible – and frankly dangerous – that the government has decided to go ahead with its plans to lift the remaining Covid-19 restrictions on July 19,» he said.
The Office of Risk Management (BMA) has repeatedly warned of the rapid rise in the infection rate and the devastating impact that hospitalizations linked to Covid are still having on the NHS, not only pushing staff to the brink of collapse but also increasing the already long waiting times for elective care.
“The prime minister has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a slow and cautious approach, but in reality the government is throwing caution to the wind by scrapping all regulations in one fell swoop – with potentially disastrous consequences.”
The latest daily official figures showed cases continued to rise with another 34,471 laboratory-confirmed infections in the UK as of 9am yesterday.
Under current modeling, the peak of the wave is not expected before mid-August, when there could be 1,000 to 2,000 hospitalizations per day, with deaths expected to reach between 100 and 200 per day.
Professor Adam Fane, a member of the Joint Governmental Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said there was «a great deal of uncertainty» about how the disease would unfold in the coming weeks.
«I sympathize with the political message that this can’t go on forever but on the other hand we don’t really want to get into a situation where things get so bad that we have to reimpose restrictions which is a very delicate balancing act I got it right,» he said.
«The longer you let the genie come out of the bottle, the more difficult it will be to bring it back, although there is a great deal of uncertainty.»
However, Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was «sufficient evidence» that vaccines significantly reduce the risk of death and serious illness.
«Although hospitalization rates are rising rapidly at the moment, we can expect a significant slowdown over the next week or two,» he said.
This does not mean that easing restrictions does not carry risks. But I would argue that leaving Step 4 (lifting the lockdown) until the fall carries a much greater risk.»
World Health Organization
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, said it was «too early to talk about relaxation or massive freedom» despite the UK’s rollout of vaccines.
Dr Nabarro told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that «the epidemic is progressing fiercely across the world» and that «I don’t think we are anywhere close to the worst of it».
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In response to a question about the UK government’s shift to personal responsibility, he said: «All of this does not quite fit the position that Britain, along with other countries, took a few months ago when there was a real effort to try to prevent the large numbers of people getting sick, due to This is partly due to the risk of death and partly due to the awareness of the risk of long-term Covid disease.
“It is essential to be clear about this particular challenge. What does it mean to urge caution? It is important that everyone knows the best possible advice on how to prevent infection.
“I agree that vaccination has changed the nature of the equation in the UK, but quite frankly from any point of view it is too early to speak of massive relaxation or freedom when the curve of the outbreak is at such a steep climb.
«Yes, relax, but don’t carry these mixed messages about what’s going on. This dangerous virus hasn’t gone away, its variants are coming back and threatening those who have already been vaccinated – we have to take it seriously.»
The government’s decision means that from next Monday social distancing rules will end and the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandatory, although venues such as nightclubs have been urged to request a «Covid certificate» as a condition of entry.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will announce today whether restrictions across the country can be eased on July 19 as planned.
Ahead of her statement to the recalled Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon said last week that with cases in Scotland at record levels, any relaxation would require care and caution.
The Welsh government is expected to determine its next steps tomorrow.
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