Lockdown is lifting too soon, risking second coronavirus spike, public health experts warn

Emily Cleary
·4-min read

Medical experts have warned that the coronavirus lockdown is being lifted too quickly as new rules came into force allowed people to meet others outside their household, and schools began to partially reopen.

Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, told BBC Radio 4: “We’re not feeling just yet that we’re confident enough to meet any potential challenge if the government goes too quickly on easing lockdown measures... The five tests haven’t yet been met.”

The government’s five tests that must be met before lockdown can be lifted include a fall in the rate of infection to “manageable levels”.

De Gruchy said: “In terms of the R [rate of infection], it’s 0.7 to 0.9 in the latest government assessment.

The government outlined five conditions that must be met before easing lockdown restrictions, but some experts say the criteria have not yet been met (UK gov)
The government's five conditions that must be met before easing lockdown restrictions. Some experts say the criteria have not yet been met. (UK government)
As another warm weekend saw millions flock to beauty spots and beaches, experts have warned lockdown is being lifted too quickly. (Jo Hale/Getty Images)
As another warm weekend saw millions flock to beauty spots and beaches, experts have warned lockdown is being lifted too quickly. (Jo Hale/Getty Images)

“It is below 1 but it’s a very limited room for manoeuvre, and we know how quickly this virus can spread, and it’s difficult to predict then with quite a lot of the measures being eased at once what the impact that will have on the R value.

“We’re also concerned about meeting all the other operational challenges ready to meet a potential rise in infections.”

De Gruchy said the national testing programme and the test and trace scheme must be “robust and ready”, and that PPE supply must be adequate.

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, tweeted about her fear of a second wave, writing: “Major deja vu feeling to mid March. Scientists incredibly concerned, politicians ignoring this, public doesn't want life disturbed.”

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She warned that changing several policies at once “makes it hard to track and study the impact of each alone”.

Prof Sridhar added: “Is there regular testing in schools that are opening up? This is a big experiment and should be used to study school reopenings – otherwise it is a wasted opportunity to learn more about virus.

“The only big change in Scotland is with activities and interaction outdoors with other people. Schools shut until 11 August, non-essential shops remain closed and shielding advice remains. Makes it easier to monitor impact of policy change & tread cautiously.”

Ministers have denied claims that they are acting too quickly, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab saying England is "transitioning" from the risk level four, when there needs to be enforced social distancing measures, to level three, when they can start to be relaxed.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday the government’s approach is "cautious".

Raab said the government had "taken evidence from scientists" and claimed it has met its five tests for relaxing restrictions.

Last week it was suggested that Boris Johnson has eased lockdown despite scientists refusing to reduce the virus threat level.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 05, 2020: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Dominic Raab leaves the BBC Broadcasting House in central London after appearing on The Andrew Marr Show on 05 January, 2020 in London, England.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Dominic Raab has defended the government's decision to relax lockodwn rules (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Other measures brought in on Monday to ease lockdown include allowing vulnerable people in England and Wales who have been asked to stay home since lockdown began to go outdoors again.

"Because we have made that progress, steadily, slowly, surely, week in, week out, we can very gradually, very carefully, take the steps that we are taking tomorrow," Raab said.

Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said Raab had "failed to provide a convincing explanation as to why lockdown is easing despite the fact that the COVID-19 risk is still classified as 'high'".

He called on ministers to "explain what evidence is guiding their decisions".

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