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The Government risks a second spike in Covid-19 cases by easing restrictions, warn doctors


By Awil Mohamoud
Reporter
12 May 2020

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The Government’s plan to ease current lockdown restrictions is ‘too risky’ and could lead to a ‘second spike’ in Covid-19 cases, doctors and medical unions have warned.

The prime minister last night announced a series of new measures coming into force this week, such as asking those currently unable to work from home to return to work, including ‘those in construction or manufacturing’.

Government plans also permit outdoor leisure activities such as ‘sitting in the sun at the local park’, ‘driving to other destinations’ and ‘taking unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise’.

Commenting on the strategy, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The Westminster Government’s plan to ease certain aspects of lockdown in England is too fast, too confusing and too risky.

‘There is no detail of how those being asked to return to work will be protected from the infection or prevented from infecting others and there are mixed messages about returning workers not using public transport when many will not own cars.

‘It would be irresponsible to allow any chance of a second spike of this virus, however, these measures risk doing just that.’

He added that without assurances on these issues, ‘lives…and the NHS’ will still be at risk.

The prime minister last night encouraged returning workers to travel by foot, bicycle or car and to avoid public transport, if possible.

However, some train lines, particularly in London, appeared overwhelmingly busy during rush hour this morning, leaving many to question how these new plans fit in with the guidelines to exercise social distancing.

Following ‘scientific evidence’, the Department of Health today formally advised the public to wear face masks when in enclosed public spaces, such as on public transport and in shops.

Dr Nagpaul added: ‘It is imperative that we do not risk people mixing with each other without the ability to rigidly adhere to social distancing.’

Testing

Both the RCGP and NHS Providers expressed concerns around the level of testing going on at the moment.

The latest figures show the Government conducted or posted out 92,837 Covid-19 tests on 9 May, which is short of the 100,000 target the health secretary pledged last month.

NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery urged the Government to only begin easing restrictions ‘when it’s safe to do so’ and to adopt a ‘balanced approach, led by science’.

‘For health and care services this will require regular, reliable and easily accessible testing for all staff and patients, backed up by an effective programme of contact tracing, to contain any potential second surge in cases.

‘Unfortunately – despite increasing testing capacity – we don’t see that detailed and developed approach in place at the moment. We need it now,’ she added.

Going forward

The plans also feature a ‘Covid Alert Level’ system, which will be used to determine how tough the measures should be, on an ongoing basis – decided based on the reproduction rate of the virus and the number of Covid-19 cases.

The prime minister further announced a second stage of easing the lockdown restrictions, which will possibly see shops reopened and primary students back at school from the start of June.

He also mentioned a third stage which, depending on the figures at the time, could make way for the hospitality industry and public places reopening in July.

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