Doctors warn against ending all COVID rules as government set to ease restrictions

Doctors' leaders have warned the government against removing COVID-19 restrictions too quickly as the government prepares to confirm how rules will be eased in a fortnight's time.

Masks: call for some rules to remain (Photo: Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images)
Masks: call for some rules to remain (Photo: Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images)

Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to unveil changes to rules on social distancing, working from home and face coverings that will take effect from 19 July - along with next steps for care home visits.

However, the BMA has warned that the government should keep some ‘targeted measures’ to control the spread of the virus after this date, amid a continued ‘worrying rise’ in cases of COVID-19.

The BMA argued that people should continue to be required to wear masks in enclosed public spaces, such as healthcare settings, public transport and shops- a stance backed by GPs via social media.

COVID restrictions

The BMA has also said that the government should provide greater guidance and support for businesses to create COVID-secure settings - and continue to encourage people to meet outdoors.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the UK remains ‘some way from protecting enough of the population’ to control the spread of coronavirus - warning of the continued risk to people’s health, the NHS and the economy.

Almost 160,000 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported UK-wide in the past seven days, an increase of 65% compared with the previous week. A total of 1,953 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in the week to 29 June - up 25% compared with the previous week.

The prime minister is expected to say that COVID-19 will become a virus that the country will learn to live with. But Dr Nagpaul said it made ‘no sense’ to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time.

Vaccination campaign

He said: ‘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 19 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.

‘While the vaccination programme continues at pace, a significant proportion of people remain either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated...This means we are still some way from protecting enough of the population from this devastating illness to control the spread.’

Dr Nagpaul added that the growing number of coronavirus cases threatened to increase the record backlog of care faced by the NHS, while it could lead to greater numbers of patients suffering with long COVID.

Face coverings

‘We are not asking for a full delay on 19 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,’ he said.

GPs also argued on Twitter that surgeries must be supported to enforce face covering rules, despite the government set to announced that it is to become a personal choice.

The call to retain some COVID-19 protection and the need for clear communication with patients over the changes comes after three quarters of primary care staff reported facing verbal abuse linked to the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

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