Health leaders warn there is ‘real risk’ a second wave of coronavirus and are calling for an urgent review to make sure the UK is ready for it.
Ministers have been warned that decisive action is needed to prevent further loss of life and to protect the economy amid growing fears of a renewed outbreak over the winter. It comes after Boris Johnson announced yesterday the biggest lockdown easing to date in England, claiming the Government does ‘not believe there is currently a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS’.
The Prime Minister said the two-metre social-distancing rule would be replaced with a ‘one-metre plus’, paving the way for pubs, restaurants, hotels and cinemas to begin reopening from July 4. But this morning former chief scientific adviser Sir David King said easing the lockdown is ‘extraordinarily risky’ and called on the the UK to focus on getting rid of coronavirus before the winter.
In an open letter to the leaders of all the UK political parties published in the British Medical Journal, a number of health leaders call for a ‘rapid and forward-looking assessment’ of the state of national preparedness in the event of a renewed flare-up.
They said: ‘While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk. Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.
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‘The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.’
The appeal was backed by the presidents of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing – as well as the chairman of the British Medical Association. They called for the creation of a cross-party commission with a ‘constructive, non-partisan, four nations approach’ to be established to develop practical recommendations for action based on what had been learned so far.
Medics said this will be ‘essential if the UK is to get ahead of the curve’ and added that the county should focus on those areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life and restore the economy as fully as possible.
They added: ‘We think there’s a strong case for an immediate assessment of national preparedness, with the first results available no later than August, and that all its work should be completed by the end of October.’
Criticising the Government’s latest lockdown easing on Sky News this morning, Sir David said: ‘We know that the winter is a likely period when the virus takes off again, we must therefore aim to completely get rid of the virus from this country before the winter.
‘If we move too quickly which is what I think is being proposed here, the risk of running into a second wave becomes very significant.
‘We have done such a good job in this country, we the public, in staying at home, if we could only be a little more patient. We still see 1,000, at least, new cases a day in this country.
‘I don’t think there’s anyone who can believe from the scientific point of view, that this is a wise move.’
Ministers have already said the temporary Nightingale Hospitals set up in case the NHS was overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases will remain on standby over the coming months.
The letter comes as Imperial College economist Professor David Miles told BBC Radio 5 the easing of lockdown measures was overdue.
He said: ‘We probably have gone past the point some weeks ago where the benefits of keeping in place the lockdown were large enough to match the rising and enormous costs of lockdown.’
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