Public health leaders warn lockdown restrictions are being eased too quickly
By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor
Directors of public health have warned they are “increasingly concerned” the Government is making the wrong judgment by easing lockdown restrictions far too quickly.
The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said new rules, including allowing groups of up to six people to meet outdoors and in private gardens, were “not supported by the science”.
It said pictures of crowded beaches and beauty spots over the weekend showed “the public is not keeping to social distancing as it was” and the NHS test and trace programme “is currently far from being the robust operation that is now urgently required as a safeguard to easing restrictions”.
Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, president of the ADPH, told Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday there was a need to balance the easing of restrictions with the risk of causing a resurgence in infections.
“A lot of people including local directors of public health across the country are increasingly concerned that the Government is misjudging this balancing act and lifting too many of the restrictions too quickly,” she said.
“The five tests haven’t yet been met.
“In terms of the R (a measure of infections produced per person) it’s 0.7 to 0.9, in the latest Government assessment it is below one, but it’s a very limited room for manoeuvre and we know how quickly this virus can spread.
“It’s difficult to predict then, with quite a lot of the measures being eased at once, what the impact that will have on the R value.
“We’re also concerned about meeting all the other operational challenges ready to meet a potential rise in infections.”
She said the national testing programme and the test and trace scheme must be “robust and ready” and the personal protective equipment (PPE) supply must be adequate.
“We’re not feeling just yet that we’re confident enough to meet any potential challenge if the Government goes too quickly on easing lockdown measures,” she added.
In a blog on Sunday, the ADPH said: “Over the weekend we have seen signs that the public is no longer keeping as strictly to social distancing as it was.
“Along with this, we are concerned that the resolve on personal hygiene measures, and the need to immediately self-isolate, if symptomatic, is waning.
“A relentless effort to regain and rebuild public confidence and trust following recent events is essential.”
The blog said the Government’s second test from its list of five – a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate – was happening, but “the downward trend is slow – particularly in care settings”.
The impact of easing restrictions on the R value – which represents how many people one infected person will pass the virus on to – was difficult to judge given they were being eased in a rapid way, it added.
“As we saw in March, R can go above one in a very short space of time – and once it does it can take many months to bring it back down. The room for manoeuvre is tight.”
The ADPH also said a second peak cannot be ruled out, and asked: “Do we really want the same number of deaths again?
“The scale to date represents an unimaginable tragedy and we must do everything possible to limit further loss of life.”