Coronavirus: UK must prepare for second virus wave – health leaders
Health leaders are calling for an urgent review to determine whether the UK is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.
In an open letter published in the British Medical Journal, ministers were warned that urgent action would be needed to prevent further loss of life.
The presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs all signed the letter.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced sweeping changes to England’s lockdown.
The Department of Health said it would continue to be guided by the latest scientific advice and would give the NHS “whatever it needs”.
On Tuesday, the prime minister said pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers will be able to reopen from 4 July.
The 2m social-distancing rule will be replaced with a “one-metre plus” rule, meaning people should stay at least 2m apart where possible, but otherwise should remain at least 1m apart while taking steps to reduce the risk of transmission, such as wearing face coverings.
The 2m rule will remain in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, however.
Both the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and the chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty stressed Mr Johnson’s plan was not “risk-free” at Tuesday’s final daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing.
Following the announcement, health leaders called for a “rapid and forward-looking assessment” of how prepared the UK would be for a new outbreak.
“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 wrote.
“Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.”
The authors of the letter, also signed by the chair of the British Medical Association, urged ministers to set up a cross-party group with a “constructive, non-partisan, four nations approach”, tasked with developing recommendations.
“The review should not be about looking back or attributing blame,” they said, and instead should focus on “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”.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the liaison committee, told BBC Two’s Politics Live he supported a “lessons learned” enquiry and had broached the subject with the government following the BMJ letter.
He said it wasn’t a “full-blooded inquiry but “about setting up a process that learns lessons”.
He said: “If you look at the papers the Cabinet Office had going into this [pandemic], there was nothing about massive PPE procurement; there was nothing about massive tracking and tracing and testing; there was nothing about a lockdown.
“This has turned out to be a massively different pandemic than the government was prepared for.”
Former Conservative 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.
Pointing to an outbreak at a meat processing plant in Germany and South Korea having to trace 1,700 contacts after an incident at a nightclub, he said: “In the places which are the best in the world they are dealing with these spikes and we have to recognise there is a very real risk of that here too.”