News | Published June 24 2020

Health chiefs call for review over “real risk” of second Covid-19 wave

In an open letter in the British Medical Journal, health figureheads have called on the government to conduct an urgent review into whether the UK is adequately prepared for a possible second wave of Covid-19.

The presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs all put their signatures to the letter, which comes after prime minister Boris Johnson announced the widest lifting of lockdown restrictions yet seen.

Johnson confirmed that pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers will be able to reopen from July 4. Meanwhile in England, the existing two-metre social distancing rule is to be reduced to a “one-metre plus” rule in line with World Health Organization advice and regulations in place in other countries. The two-metre rule will remain in place across the other constituent countries of the UK for the time being.

Announcing the move in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Johnson said all steps were “reversible” but added that he did not believe there was "a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS".

Elsewhere, the Department of Health has promised to back the NHS with “whatever it needs” and said that it would continue to be guided by the science.

A spokesperson for the department said: "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."

In the wake of the move, the open letter called for a “rapid and forward-looking assessment” to determine just how prepared the country would be to face a second wave.

It read: "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.

"Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.”

It added that the review “should not be about looking back or attributing blame” but rather highlight "areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life and restore the economy as fully and as quickly as possible".

Furthermore, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty have warned that the prime minister’s plan did not come without risks, when speaking at the final daily coronavirus briefing from Downing Street on Tuesday.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that he did not support a public inquiry into the matter at this time, but warned that the risk of a second spike in cases remained “very real”.

Conservative MP and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC Radio 5 Live's Emma Barnett that he did not think it was the right time for a public inquiry, which would take up a lot of ministerial time. But he thought there was a "very real risk" of a second wave.

Hunt has also been vocal in calling for weekly coronavirus testing for NHS staff to reduce risk and allow more staff to attend work safely to bring down long waiting lists.

Professor John Edmunds, who has regularly attended the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] meetings, also warned that reducing the social distancing regulations from two metres could risk the rate of infection “taking off again”, adding that a robust test and trace system must be in force to crack down on outbreaks.

The latest official figures indicate that 42,927 have died in the UK after testing positive for the virus, after a daily increase of 171.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
June 24 2020

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