COVID: Living with virus 'no longer an option', warns public health expert

People wearing face masks among crowds of pedestrians in Covent Garden, London. Rumours were abound in the Sunday newspapers that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is due to update the nation this week on plans for unlocking, is due to scrap social distancing and mask-wearing requirements on so-called
Covid cases have been rising over recent weeks. (PA)

A public health expert has said the government's "living with COVID" approach is no longer viable and that the public should once again be urged to wear face masks to halt the spread of the virus.

COVID cases have soared across the UK in recent weeks with official figures reporting 2.7 million having the virus as of 30 June.

On Tuesday, Dr Chris Papadopoulos, principal lecturer in Public Health at the University of Bedfordshire, warned the UK is no longer in a post-COVID world "despite what the government might want to believe".

He said new measures need to be considered "urgently" given increasing hospitalisations, including pushing the guidance that face masks are worn in enclosed public spaces.

Dr Papadopoulos said: "One of the messages the government should push again is mask wearing in enclosed and poorly ventilated spaces such as public transport, especially since there has been a growing stigma against mask-wearing in recent times.

Watch: Covid threat 'nowhere near over' says WHO after wave of new infections

"Officials need to get away from the idea that vaccinations are a completely effective stand-alone solution. We need the full spectrum of public health messages in play to keep COVID-19 under control."

He added he thought the public briefings should return to make the public aware of the latest facts and figures on how prevalent the virus has become, and make it clear what they are doing "to proactively protect the nation’s health beyond just vaccinations."

Dr Papadopoulos' warning comes the day after a government health minister, Lord Kamall, warned that a change in some policies might have to be considered – including the free lateral flow testing scheme and mandatory face masks – in order for the NHS to deal with the backlog in patients.

Cases numbers are levelling off across all age groups, figures have shown. (ZOE)
Cases numbers are levelling off across all age groups, figures have shown. (ZOE)

He told the House of Lords: "They [health officials] are still focusing on the backlog.

If it gets to a point where it is affecting the backlog then clearly measures may well have to be introduced."

Asked why the government hasn't reintroduced free COVID tests for everyone in England and financial support for those who self-isolate, Lord Kamall replied that some in the health system believed funds would be "better spent elsewhere given the backlog due to lockdown", instead of on free testing.

He added: "It is always a difficult trade off between where you spend this money.

"All this will continue to be monitored. Should the number of cases spiral out of control then clearly we would look to reintroduce free testing at some stage if it needed that.'

Wales and Scotland are seeing their numbers begin to level out. (ZOE)
Wales and Scotland are seeing their numbers begin to level out. (ZOE)

On Sunday, the Zoe COVID study recorded 351,000 new cases in a single day, which it claimed was a record high, though the rise in cases is believed to be flattening out.

Professor Tim Spector, founder of the ZOE Covid study, tweeted: "We have new U.K. RECORD! Over 351000 daily new cases on the Zoe app –v that 1 in 15 people with the virus currently. Still rising across England but flattening in Scotland and Wales.

"All age groups increasing but kids levelling so hopefully flat within a week."

EMBARGOED TO 0001 WEDNESDAY JUNE 22 File photo dated 16/12/21 of medical staff preparing shots of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, as American pharmaceutical giant Moderna will open a new research and manufacturing centre in the UK.
Vaccines are effective but not a standalone solution, an expert warned. (PA)

Despite a decline in new cases throughout the spring, the growth in infections has been driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of omicron – which now make up more than half of all new COVID cases in England.

The increase in new cases has also resulted in a rise in those being admitted to hospital.

Latest government figures show a 33% rise in hospital admissions over the past seven days compared with the previous week, with over 11,000 patients being admitted for treatment.

Most hospital patients who test positive for COVID-19 are being treated primarily for something else, rather than the virus.

But they will need to be kept isolated from those patients who do not have COVID, putting extra pressure on hospital staff working at an already overstretched NHS.

Earlier this month, new figures revealed a record high 6.5 million people were waiting for hospital treatment in England.

There are also concerns as to the impact of surging cases on the numbers of those suffering from long COVID, and the long-term implications of this.