Amid rising Covid-19 case numbers and ahead of all remaining restrictions being lifted on Monday, Dr Penelope Toff, co-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, said:
“Levels of infection are likely to rise much faster than they would otherwise have done once face coverings stop being mandatory in the majority of public settings and members of the public are left to decide for themselves when or if to wear them. This in turn will lead to an increase in the numbers of people needing hospital care, and sadly more deaths.
“The enormous surge in Covid-19 infections this past week should serve as the biggest indicator yet that easing all remaining restrictions on Monday is not in the best interests of people or the economy.
“Today saw the highest number of daily case rates since mid-January, with thousands of people being advised to self-isolate via the NHS Test and Trace app. The implications for healthcare services and the wider economy of having so many people unable to work, are huge, especially when we consider that there are already workforce shortages in the NHS.
“It is difficult to understand why, against this backdrop and knowing that the majority of people want to do the right thing to protect themselves and their families, the Westminster Government is standing firm on ending all remaining restrictions.
“The fact that guidance has been issued on keeping face coverings in healthcare settings is recognition that they are an effective way of controlling infection but vulnerable people should not be excluded from all other public areas and effectively asked to shield all over again because they cannot be sure most others will be wearing face coverings.
“We’re already hearing of ICU wards beginning to fill up and many Covid-19 wards being reopened. Healthcare workers have risked their lives fighting on the frontline this past year, so the thought of having to go through a huge and preventable surge again is very demoralising and puts staff wellbeing at stake. The backlog of care, in both hospitals and the community, is growing at a rapid pace and this increase of Covid infections has already meant more people have had their treatment delayed even longer. We simply cannot afford to let this third wave spiral out of control.
“We all want to go back to normality but targeted and well-enforced measures to control the spread of infection must remain. Relaxing all restrictions shouldn’t even be considered until at least the vast majority of the population reach maximum protection after being double-vaccinated and numbers of hospital admissions stabilise.
“Westminster Government must significantly improve public messaging, emphasising that as the virus continues to spread, wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces, practising social distancing and meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces remains the best way to reduce infection, save people’s lives, and make sure our NHS is able to cope."
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association 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.