Whitty worried about whether public would accept new restrictions

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  • Chris Whitty
    British physician and epidemiologist

England’s chief medical officer has said his “greatest worry” is whether the public would accept fresh restrictions in the face of a new Covid-19 variant.

Professor Chris Whitty told a panel discussion hosted by the Local Government Association that he worried whether the Government could still “take people with us”.

It comes as Belgium became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant B.1.1.529, which has been identified in other places including South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

It is not yet known if the new variant is more deadly, or even more transmissible, than previous variants.

Coronavirus – Wed Jun 9, 2021
Professor Chris Whitty said he believed that in the end the Government will still be able to maintain public support (Peter Byrne/PA)

“My greatest worry at the moment is that people… if we need to do something more muscular at some point, whether it’s for the current new variant or at some later stage, can we still take people with us?” Prof Whitty said.

He admitted that some of the changes the public has had to make have been “very destructive” to society and the economy.

However, despite his worries, the chief medical officer struck a positive note, saying he believed the Government will be able to maintain public support for coronavirus measures.

“I think the extraordinary thing has been the ability of the UK population, with very, very small exceptions, to just accept that there are things we collectively have to do to protect one another and do collectively, including things that have been very destructive to social and economic situations for individuals and families,” he said.

“Obviously, we want to avoid having to do those at all if we can, and to do the minimum ones necessary, but will we be able to maintain public support?

“And I think my overall view is, I think we will.

“Provided you are clear with people what the logic is, provided they feel that we’re being entirely straight with them as to all the data… but I think that’s always a worry.”

Prof Whitty added that the longer the pandemic goes on, the harder it is to know what the public’s response will be.

“It’s easier to be confident of people’s response right at the beginning than it is after people put up with two years of their lives being interfered with.”

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