'Irresponsible': Senior doctors condemn PM's 19 July lockdown easing

13 July 2021, 07:03

Leading doctors have hit out at Boris Johnson for pressing ahead with the 19 July Freedom Day
Leading doctors have hit out at Boris Johnson for pressing ahead with the 19 July Freedom Day. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Senior doctors have condemned Boris Johnson's "irresponsible" decision to continue with lockdown lifting on 19 July despite a surge in Covid infections.

The prime minister confirmed on Monday that most mandatory coronavirus restrictions in England will end next week.

However, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned of "potentially devastating consequences" if all measures are eased.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson noted that the pandemic "is not over" and urged people to proceed with caution.

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He also said postponing the easing of lockdown rules until autumn would risk reopening when schools return for the autumn term and people spend more time inside as the weather gets colder.

However, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that by proceeding on 19 July the government was breaking its promise to follow the data.

He added that removing restrictions while millions of people are still not fully vaccinated would allow Covid to "retighten its grip", see infections and hospitalisations soar and put more lives at risk.

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"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."

On Monday, coronavirus cases continued to surge with the UK recording another 34,471 lab-confirmed infections.

Current modelling predicts the peak of the current wave will be hit by mid-August at the earliest, when there could be between 1,000-2,000 hospitalisations per day, plus 100-200 deaths.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said there was "considerable uncertainty" as to how the disease would play out in the coming weeks.

"I sympathise with the political message that this can't go on forever but on the other hand we really don't want to get to a situation where things get so bad that we have to reimpose restrictions and it's a very delicate balancing act to get that right," he said.

"The more you let the genie out of the bottle the harder it is to put it back in, though there is a large amount of uncertainty."

However, Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said there was "ample evidence" vaccines were dramatically reducing the risk of death and incidence of severe disease.

"Although hospitalisation rates are rising rapidly at present, we can expect these to have slowed substantially within the next week or two," he said

"That does not mean that relaxing restrictions has no risk. But I would argue leaving Step 4 (lockdown lifting) until the autumn carries a far greater risk."

The government's decision means that from next Monday social distancing rules will end and wearing face masks will no longer be compulsory, although venues such as nightclubs are being urged to require "Covid certification" as a condition of entry.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will announce on Tuesday whether restrictions can be eased across the country on 19 July as planned.

Ahead of her statement to the recalled Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon said last week that with cases in Scotland at record levels, any relaxation would require "care and caution".

The Welsh Government is expected to set out its next steps on Wednesday.