Health leaders call for a “rapid and forward-looking assessment” of the state of national preparedness for a second wave.
Health leaders are calling for an urgent review to ensure Britain is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.
Ministers have been warned that urgent action is needed to prevent further loss of life and to protect the economy amid growing fears of a renewed outbreak in the winter.
The appeal is backed by the presidents of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, GPs and Nursing – as well as the chairman of the British Medical Association.
It follows the prime minister’s announcement of a reduction in the two-metre social distancing rule, as he gave the green light for pubs, restaurants, hotels, hairdressers and barbers in England to reopen from 4 July.
In an open letter to the leaders of all the UK political parties published in the British Medical Journal, the health leaders call for a “rapid and forward-looking assessment” of the state of national preparedness in the event of a renewed flare-up.
“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,” they said.
“Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.
“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.”
Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser, told Sky News that easing of lockdown announced by the PM was “extraordinarily risky”.
He also warned of the risk of a second wave of COVID-19, saying: “We know the winter is a likely period when the virus takes off again. We must therefore aim to get completely 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.”
Sir David said England still lacked an effective test and trace system, which means it is “travelling in the dark” as lockdown is eased further.
Asked if he thinks the government went against the advice of their scientists in announcing a further easing of lockdown, Sir David says: “I think this is definitely a political decision.”
Yesterday the PM said from next month people will be required to keep “one-metre plus” apart from others, while also taking measures to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
“Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should,” Mr Johnson said.
“But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one-metre plus, meaning they should remain one metre apart while taking mitigating measures to reduce the risk of transmission.”
These include wearing a face mask on public transport, handwashing, screens, being outside and limiting time spent with others.
Another change to the guidelines from 4 July will allow gatherings of two different households indoors, provided social distancing is maintained.
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This will mean families can be reunited and dinner parties will be allowed, but people will still be unable to hug their loved ones.
But the public have been warned life will not return to normal for a long time.
“I would be surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring,” England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty warned at the final daily Downing Street briefing.
“I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time and I think it is going to be quite optimistic that for science to come fully to the rescue over that kind of timeframe.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We have been clear that we will continue to be guided by the latest scientific advice and will give the NHS whatever it needs, as we have done throughout this unprecedented pandemic.
“Thanks to the dedication of NHS staff, hospitals have not been overwhelmed and intensive care capacity continues to meet the needs of patients.
“Effective local management of any outbreak is the first line of protection against a second wave.
“In the event the local response is not sufficient to contain outbreaks, the government would reintroduce measures if necessary to contain the virus and stop it spreading to the wider population.”