Leading doctors are urging the Government to keep some measures in place after July in England to control the spread of Covid amid the “alarming” rise in cases.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said that keeping some protective measures in place was “crucial” to stop spiralling cases numbers having a “devastating impact” on people’s health, the NHS, economy and education.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he has increasing confidence that he can go ahead with the final phase of his plans to end England’s lockdown on July 19 to “get back to life as close to it was before Covid”.
The new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, earlier this week also confirmed his intention for Step 4 of the road map to go ahead at that point, but he stopped short of confirming to MPs that will mean the end of every measure.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said easing restrictions was not an “all or nothing” decision and that “sensible, cautious” measures will be vital to minimising the impact of further waves, new variants and lockdowns.
He added: “As case numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate due to the rapid transmission of the Delta variant and an increase in people mixing with one another, it makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time.
“The promise was to make decisions based on data and not dates, and while we were pleased to see the Government react to data in delaying the easing on June 21 last month, ministers must not now simply disregard the most recent, damning, numbers by rushing into meeting their new July 19 deadline.
“We have made excellent progress with both the vaccination campaign and individual action from people across the country over the last 18 months, and the Government must absolutely not throw this away at this critical juncture.”
Public Health England figures show a total of 161,981 confirmed and probable cases of Delta variant have now been identified in the UK – up by 50,824, or 46%, on the previous week.
The Delta variant, which was first identified in India, continues to account for approximately 95% of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK.
Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that about one in 260 people in private households in England had Covid in the week to June 26.
This is up from one in 440 in the previous week and the highest level since the week to February 27.
Dr Nagapul said that, while the hospitalisations remained low compared to the rise in cases, the numbers were “increasing at pace” with twice as many Covid patients in beds and on ventilators than this time last month.
He added: “Even if people aren’t getting admitted to hospital at the same rate, spiralling levels of community transmission provides a fertile ground for new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants to develop.”
Dr Nagpaul stressed that the BMA was not asking for a “full delay” of July 19 but a series of “targeted measures” to help prevent transmission of the virus.
These include requiring people to continue wearing masks in enclosed public areas such as on public transport and in shops, and “significantly improved” public messaging emphasising that practising social distancing and meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces – and wearing masks when this is not possible – remains the best way to reduce risk of infection.
Dr Nagpaul added: “Everyone appreciates the efforts and sacrifices we have all made so far to suppress the spread of the virus, and it would be tragic if we were to undo this good work now.
“We are not asking for a full delay on July 19, rather a series of sensible, targeted measures that will help prevent transmission of the virus while having a minimal impact on people’s daily lives.”