Indian-origin doctors’ chief wants face masks to stay beyond lockdown in UK

·3-min read

London, Jul 3 (PTI) An Indian-origin doctors' association chief in the UK on Saturday called upon the government to keep some compulsory safety measures in place to not 'throw away' the progress made in the fight against COVID-19 when lockdown restrictions are lifted later this month.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the Council Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) – a leading doctors’ union, warns that coronavirus infections continue to rise at an 'alarming rate' with the Delta variant of COVID-19, first detected in India.

The association believes measures such as face masks in enclosed public spaces, including public transport, shops and healthcare settings, and social distancing messaging for people to gather in well-ventilated spaces must remain in place even beyond July 19 – currently the date expected as the end to all legal lockdown restrictions in England.

'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,” said Dr Nagpaul.

“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,” he said.

The BMA points out that weekly cases in England are up 74 per cent on the previous seven days, while the number of people admitted to hospitals in England with COVID-19 has risen by 55 per cent over the last week.

'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,” warned Nagpaul.

July 19 is the earliest time the British government has said it will consider removing all legal restrictions as part of its lockdown roadmap. However, both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and new Health Secretary Sajid Javid have indicated that some lockdown measures could stay beyond this date.

“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,” said Nagpaul.

He said 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,' he said.

'Neither will all those vaccinated by July 19 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,' he added.

The BMA said it is concerned about the “spiralling levels” of community transmission, which provides a fertile ground for new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants to develop.

It is calling for more work to ensure support for businesses and educational institutions to create COVID-secure environments and greater emphasis on the importance of good ventilation, including setting legal standards.

The warning comes after Public Health England (PHE) released its weekly data on variants of concern (VOCs) on Friday and logged a further 50,824 cases of the Delta variant in the country – a 46 per cent increase over the previous week.

It noted that while vaccines are breaking the link between the disease and hospitalisations, caution was still essential due to the continued rise in coronavirus infections. PTI AK MRJ MRJ

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