The British Medical Association is urging the Government to keep some targeted measures to control the spread of Covid-19 in place after 19 July in England, amid a continued worrying rise in case numbers.
Weekly cases in England are up 74% on the previous seven days, while the number of people admitted to hospitals in England with Covid-19 has risen by 55% over the last week.
The 19th of July – in just over two weeks’ time – is the earliest time the Government has said it will consider removing all legal restrictions, however both the Prime Minister and the new Health and Social Care Secretary have indicated that some measures could stay beyond this date – something the BMA says is crucial to stop spiralling case numbers having a devastating impact on people’s health, the NHS, the economy and education.
The BMA says these measures and support should include1:
- Ongoing requirements to wear a mask in enclosed public spaces, such as public transport, shops, healthcare settings and in communal areas in educational settings, where adequate ventilation and distancing are often not possible.
- Significantly improved public messaging and education, emphasising that while the virus continues to circulate, practising social distancing and meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces – and wearing masks when this is not possible – remains the best way to reduce risk of infection and keep yourself safe.
- Greater guidance and support for businesses and educational settings to create sustainable, Covid-secure environments, as well as enforcement of standards.
- Emphasis on the importance of good ventilation, including setting legal standards. Financial and other support for businesses and educational settings must be made available to implement these requirements ahead of the autumn and winter period, when respiratory viruses spread more easily and buildings must be kept warm, limiting options for natural ventilation.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“As case numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate due to the rapid transmission of the Delta variant and an increase in people mixing with one another, it makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time. The promise was to make decisions based on data and not dates, and while we were pleased to see the Government react to data in delaying the easing on 21 June last month, ministers must not now simply disregard the most recent, damning, numbers by rushing into meeting their new 19th July deadline.
“It’s not a binary decision of ‘all or nothing’, and the sensible, cautious measures that we are proposing, will be vital in minimising not just the impact of rising case numbers on people’s individual health and the health service, but also wider damage to the economy and society, caused by even further waves, new variants and lockdowns.
“We have made excellent progress with both the vaccination campaign and individual action from people across the country over the last 18 months, and the Government must absolutely not throw this away at this critical juncture.
“While the vaccination programme continues at pace, a significant proportion of people remain either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. This is on top of those who cannot receive the jab or the small number for whom immunisation will be ineffective.
“Neither will all those vaccinated by 19th July be properly protected given it takes about two weeks after the second dose to confer maximum immunity. This means we are still some way from protecting enough of the population from this devastating illness to control the spread.
“Meanwhile although hospitalisations remain relatively low in comparison to the steep rise in cases, the numbers are increasing at pace, with twice as many Covid patients in beds and on ventilators than this time last month. This is a particular worry for doctors and their colleagues who are faced with a record backlog of care put on hold by the first waves of the pandemic, and in which even modest increases in hospital admissions will undermine treating the 5 million patients currently on waiting lists.
“Even if people aren’t getting admitted to hospital at the same rate, spiralling levels of community transmission provides a fertile ground for new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants to develop. Also worrying is evidence that one in 10 people suffer longer-term impacts of long-Covid after even a mild infection, with an estimated 2 million people in England having lived with long-lasting symptoms. These factors could have serious consequences for the NHS and public health teams as well as business, education and wider society – therefore stemming the spread of the virus in the community with a series of manageable, targeted measures must be the priority right now.
“Everyone appreciates the efforts and sacrifices we have all made so far to suppress the spread of the virus, and it would be tragic if we were to undo this good work now. We are not asking for a full delay on 19th July, rather a series of sensible, targeted measures that will help prevent transmission of the virus while having a minimal impact on people’s daily lives.
“Our appeal is to both the Government to keep appropriate measures in place, and to the public to continue acting in a careful, responsible manner – giving other people space, wearing face coverings in areas where physical distancing isn’t possible and recognising that the virus won’t simply stop posing a serious danger in two weeks’ time.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- Further recommendations and more information about the evidence the BMA has drawn upon in support of our position are here. Figures correct as of Friday 2 July.