Covid: Doctors criticise ministers over new rules refusal

Compulsory face coverings and social distancing should be brought back in England to address an “unacceptable” rate of Covid infections, doctors say.

The British Medical Association has accused ministers of taking their “foot off the brake” and being “wilfully negligent” for not reimposing rules.

Daily UK Covid cases have been above 40,000 for eight days in a row.

The health secretary has warned daily cases could soon rise to 100,000 but is rejecting fresh restrictions right now.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference on Wednesday, Sajid Javid said that “at this point” the government would not bring in its Plan B measures – which include mandatory face coverings and Covid passports, as well recommending working from home.

But he warned insufficient vaccine uptake would make restrictions in England more likely.

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“The simple truth is that the so-called wall of defence we’ve built up with
vaccination is now crumbling.”

Under the government’s plan for tackling Covid in England over the winter, restrictions will only be reintroduced if the NHS comes under “unsustainable pressure”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chairman, said doctors “can categorically say that time is now”.

He stressed that case numbers were comparable to March, when England was in lockdown, and were “unheard of in similar European nations”.

“It is therefore incredibly concerning that [Mr Javid] is not willing to take immediate action to save lives and to protect the NHS,” he said.

Dr Nagpaul said the government had “taken its foot off the brake, giving the impression that the pandemic is behind us and that life has returned to normal”.

He said: “It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection”, adding that compulsory face coverings, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in “high-risk settings” were “the norm in many other nations”.

His comments echoed the demands of health leaders from the NHS Confederation this week.

And they came as Prof Sir Mark Walport, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, said “the current measures are probably not holding things” when it came to the spread of the virus.

“Am I worried? Yes. It’s very, very delicately poised,” he told BBC Newsnight.

“Winter is coming, flu is probably coming. It’s not a good place to be.”


Chart showing that the number of daily cases are rising. Updated 20 October


In his Downing Street briefing, Mr Javid urged people to get booster vaccines and wear face coverings in crowded places with people they did not know.

Otherwise, he said, “it’s going to hit us all” – “and it would of course make it more likely we’re going to have more restrictions”.

However, No 10 said there were no plans for another lockdown in England.

The UK reported another 49,139 cases on Wednesday, and a further 179 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Around 14% of people in the UK aged 12 and over remain unvaccinated.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused Mr Javid of complacency, telling the BBC: “The simple truth is that the so-called wall of defence we’ve built up with vaccination is now crumbling.”

He said it was disappointing the health secretary did not give details on “how he is going to grip this and drive up the vaccinations we need”.

Meanwhile, the government has agreed deals for two new Covid treatments.

The Antivirals Taskforce has secured 480,000 courses of molnupiravir, which trials found cuts the risk of hospital admission or death by about half, as well as 250,000 courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir, which is currently undergoing clinical trials.

If approved by the UK’s medicines regulator, the Department of Health said thousands of patients would be able to access the treatments this winter.

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