Doctors warn of ‘devastating consequences’ of lifting Covid rules in England
Senior doctors have warned of “potentially devastating consequences” after Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that he would press ahead with lifting most remaining Covid restrictions in England on 19 July.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister urged “extreme caution” for the final step of the roadmap, which will mean nightclubs can reopen, social distancing rules will be abandoned and mask-wearing will no longer be legally enforceable.
Warnings from the government’s scientific advisers suggested that the “exit wave” could result in more than 200 deaths a day and thousands of hospitalisations, though models by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling (SPI-M) suggest median projections of about 400 deaths per day.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the British Medical Association council chair, said a significant proportion of the population was still not fully vaccinated and that pressing ahead would allow the virus to “re-tighten its grip”, putting unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
“It’s irresponsible – and frankly perilous – that the government has decided to press ahead with plans to lift the remaining Covid-19 restrictions on 19 July,” he said.
“The BMA has repeatedly warned of the rapidly rising infection rate and the crippling impact that Covid-related hospitalisations continue to have on the NHS, not only pushing staff to the brink of collapse but also driving up already lengthy waiting times for elective care.
“The prime minister repeatedly emphasised 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 devastating consequences.”
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, said her professional body did not usually comment on political decisions but said “we felt it necessary to say caution is vital” regarding 19 July.
“We need everyone to think very carefully and responsibly about what they’re doing personally: Just because the law changes doesn’t mean that what we do as individuals has to change,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme.
Prof Graham Medley, a member of Sage, said the summer peak of coronavirus as measures ease in England could last six weeks and heap a “considerable burden” on the NHS.
Medley, who chairs Spi-M, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve never seen a peak before that hasn’t been controlled. The intention is not to introduce a lockdown for this peak. Then we are going to see a natural peak and that may well be long and disseminated.
“So even if we don’t get up to very high numbers, the numbers that we get up to might last for several weeks, six weeks or so, in which case there’s still a considerable burden on healthcare. So, although we might not get over 2,000 admissions a day, if that lasts six weeks then that’s a lot of people.”
Medley said people’s behaviour after 19 July was “unknowable”, but said it was “likely that we will get between 1-2,000 hospitalisations a day”.
Stephen Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said businesses needed to be able to open up without restriction. “There’s no perfect time to do this. What we’ve done is deploy the vaccine – an extra 7m – opening when the schools are shut is seen as the optimum time to do so,” he said.
“It’s about getting that balance right, people reaching their own judgments, being sensible, following the guidance. But we also need to get back to normal, businesses need to fire up, we need to get the economy going, and those are important as well because there are consequences to not doing that, both economically and in terms of people’s health.”