Pressing ahead with plans to lift most remaining Covid restrictions in England is “irresponsible and perilous”, senior doctors have warned.
Prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced almost all social distancing measures would be abandoned from 19 July, including the compulsory use of face masks.
“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.
“In doing so, the government is reneging on its own promise to be led by data and impact on the NHS.
“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 this evening 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.”
National Voices, the leading coalition of health and social care charities in England, has sent the prime minister a joint letter signed and endorsed by almost 60 member organisations asking him to urgently reconsider the decision to lift virtually all infection control measures.
The letter, signed by Kidney Care UK, MS Society, Parkinson’s UK and Blood Cancer UK, raises concerns about a “sizeable proportion of the population” remaining highly vulnerable to infection and poor outcomes should they fall ill.
“The continued prevalence of high Covid infection rates is holding back the recovery,” they wrote.
“We can only crack on with the crucial recovery of non-Covid healthcare if we keep Covid infections and the ongoing need for Covid care low.
“If we have thousands of people falling very ill again with Covid, it will damage the economy and the health system both in the short and long term more than the continued use of moderate Covid control measures… all recovery can only happen if rates of infection are kept low.”
Charlotte Augst, chief executive of National Voices, added: “The massive success of the vaccine programme stems from its commitment to prioritise those at greatest risk. This focus is what has broken the link between infections and deaths for now.
“We need to apply this thinking to the next phase: by focusing on those who remain at risk, we can minimise further harm and additional pressures on the NHS.”
Modelling by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) shows that ending restrictions could lead to between 1,000 and 2,000 hospital admissions a day within weeks, with up to 200 deaths daily now thought to be likely.
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