Hold off decision on June 21 lockdown lifting, BMA chair urges government

31 May 2021, 23:09

Huge crowds on Brighton beach on Sunday
Huge crowds on Brighton beach on Sunday. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The head of the British Medical Association has urged the government to 'hold off' making a decision about ending England's lockdown rules on 21st June.

Concern is growing over how rising cases of the India variant of coronavirus will impact hospital admissions.

Ministers want to ensure all over-50s have had both doses of a jab by the planned so-called "freedom-day" next month.

British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "The Government must hold off making a final decision on whether lockdown is fully lifted on June 21 until latest data can be scientifically considered - the Prime Minister had pledged he would be guided by 'data not dates', and it's vital that he now honours this commitment.

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"We are at a pivotal moment in battling against the virus in the UK, and with the June 21 date signifying an end to all legal restrictions and allowing normal social mixing of people.

"Yet since the road map was announced, we have seen the emergence of a highly-transmissible new variant and significant escalation of cases - and in the last week a reversal of a downward trend into seeing increases in hospital admissions and deaths. At the same time, we know the second vaccine doses are critical to controlling the spread of the new variant.

"A premature ending of all legal restrictions which then resulted in a surge of infections would undermine our health service's efforts to tackle the biggest level of backlog of care it has ever faced. It would also add further demands on staff who are exhausted, both mentally and physically."

The prime minister has pledged to follow the "data not the dates" when making decisions on the roadmap out of lockdown.

Ministers have said that no decision will be made until June 14 - a week before the restrictions are due to be lifted.

Meanwhile Labour has said "ministerial incompetence" was the "biggest threat" to plans for exiting lockdown.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "The decision to continue easing restrictions on June 21 must be taken based on data to keep people safe and prevent overwhelming the NHS.

"The single biggest threat to that is ministerial incompetence.

"Today ministers remain engulfed and distracted by internal rows and blame-shifting at just the moment we need a laser-like focus on this variant.

"Weak, slow decisions on border policy let this variant in, continued lack of sufficient self-isolation support and a stand-off with local public health directors over vaccination policy failed to contain it.

"For June 21 to go ahead, ministers must learn from their earlier mistakes."