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Independents' Day

The Government’s weak messaging will cost lives

Editor’s blog

The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday around radically easing lockdown measures was pretty well received by the general public, and understandably so. But I haven’t heard many GPs in full support.

We can all understand the reasons for coming out of lockdown. As I have said many a time, taking into account economic factors is not necessarily a heartless act: a deep recession may itself lead to many deaths and ruined lives. And the mental health effects of lockdown on people - especially those who are shielding - may be devastating.

But let’s not pretend that we are coming out of lockdown because it is ‘safe’. The daily death count yesterday was 171. As the BMA pointed out yesterday, there are currently 35,000 people infected – one in every 1,700 people. There were 6,700 infected when we entered lockdown. And the R is hovering only just below 1.

I fear we may be going back into lockdown as quickly as we came out

Of course, there are differences between now and when we went into lockdown: we have better (though certainly not perfect) testing, people are more aware of the basics of infection control and we now have (some semblance of) contact tracing.

But the messaging is key here. In order to stop the death toll rising, we need the Government to tell the public straight that there are still major risks in living a ‘normal’ life. And they need to hammer home the message that, although the rules are not as strict as before, they still must be adhered to or else any progress we made will be lost.

I don’t feel this is happening, however. Mr Johnson says ‘currently’ there is no risk of a second wave. Beyond the fact this is meaningless (the reason there is no risk of a second wave is because we haven’t yet finished the first wave) this is giving the message that we are reaching the end game. And the number of people I have seen planning on going to the pub on 4 July suggests to me that the correct message is not getting through.

I sincerely hope that I – and many GPs – are wrong. But I fear we may be going back into lockdown as quickly as we came out.

 Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at editor@pulsetoday.co.uk

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Vinci Ho

    Several points :
    (1) The dilemma of finding a balance between further stringent restrictions and restoring some economic activities after the lockdown , is phenomenally complicated . No single country knows the answer .The recent outbreak (though smaller in scale) in Beijing as well as the situation in southern states of America . Both presidents who are engaging an imminent Cold War 2.0 , are keen to switch on their economy engines to full gear in short period of time .
    The fundamental question is , ‘which is more important; money or human lives ?’ . Of course , the answer is not that straight forward and the conundrum is equally hard for either a democratic or autocratic government.
    (2) The price of easing the lockdown is numerically measured by the R rate . Vulnerable patients in UK are still to be shielded until the end of July. Clearly ,a more sensible way to determine who should be an appropriate candidate is essential . We, GPs, are already up against some consequences of 3 month shielding in these patients . R rate will go up if people get ‘carried away’ as more shops , restaurants etc are open . Arguably , they are the relatively ‘younger’ ones who are less susceptible to severe complications and hence , fatality. Protection of the vulnerable ones especially those in care homes is paramount . Reality could be a higher R rate but the mortalities remaining low .
    (3) Ultimately, it is about education of the public to change behaviour for a new social norm : vigilant social distancing , surface cleansing , hand-sanitation plus face coverings. The latest story of the world number one tennis player tested Covid-19 positive demonstrated the potential neglect and ignorance on the subject , which will undoubtedly translate into a higher R rate . Yes , testing ( with tracing ) is better now but we are still on no man’s land , literally ..........

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  • I am surprised that journalists are not asking why the apparent acceptance of circa 150 deaths per day to open the economy is an acceptable exchange rate.
    This fire is not out, the embers are just quietly smouldering away.

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  • Spot on. Even amongst colleagues there is the misconception that the 2 m rule is gone when that is not the case; Whitty himself said that the 2 m rule still applies and only when it’s not possible should it be 1 m plus with mitigation but alas all this has been lost in BJ’s terrible messaging and I fear the public thinks it’s all over and back to normal.

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  • Johnson unfortunately is the worst possible person we could have as PM during this critical time. He strives to be the entertainer, wants to put a positive spin on everything & be popular. He singularly lacks the gravitas required to communicate the precautions that are needed. When he said in the commons people should go to the seaside my head was in my hands. The coastal towns are some of our least doctored areas in the country. Many have no hospitals & poor access to regional DGH’s. Places like Cornwall & Lincolnshire can not afford to have infection seeded in from areas with high prevalence. He wants us all to go out & spend money but it’s too fast & too early. I dread the coming months.

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  • Second wave or not there will not be a second lockdown in England.

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  • eh, - but the Government plan is Genocide by Covid of the 'undesireables' as it sees them, who consume NHS resources, the elderly, BAME, disabled and chronically sick.
    Not that I agree with the strategy nor voted for them of course. They do not appear to care about lives, like GPs do. Nor do they care about GPs lives.....

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