Thursday, January 20

Public alarm grows over Boris Johnson’s plan for Covid’s ‘freedom day’ | Coronavirus

Boris Johnson is facing a growing revolt over plans to end most of Covid’s restrictions on July 19, including the mandatory use of face masks on public transportation and in hospitals, as half of the public now he says he wants “freedom day” delayed.

Last night, as doctors and other NHS workers demanded that masks continue to be worn in hospitals, regional political leaders broke ranks, saying they would override the national government on the issue and strongly advise people to continue wearing masks on public transport. .

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, told the Observer that with Covid cases increasing rapidly again, the “day of freedom” ran the risk of becoming a “day of anxiety” for a large number of vulnerable people, because the government was making reckless decisions.

“The government is simply wrong to frame everything from here as a matter of pure personal choice. It isn’t, ”Burnham said. “Many people who are vulnerable to the virus have to use public transportation and shop for food in person. That is why the use of face covers in these settings should have been mandatory. I will strongly encourage the people of Greater Manchester to continue to wear masks in public transport out of respect for others. “

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also involved in urgent talks with the government, Transport for London (TfL), private train operators and unions as support grows for the use of face masks to remain mandatory online. transport of the capital.

It is understood that Khan believes that maintaining the mask requirement for all modes of transport would be the simplest and safest measure. He said last week that wearing face covers reduces the spread of Covid “and crucially gives Londoners the confidence to travel online, which is vital to our economic recovery.”

An Opinium poll for the Observer found that 73% of people now believe that the use of masks in public transport should continue, while 50% said that “freedom day”, when the vast majority of other controls must end, should be delayed beyond July 19. This compared to just under a third (31%) who believe the government should go ahead as planned. Only 10% think the restrictions should have been lifted earlier.

Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid are expected to confirm their plans for a massive lifting of government controls on Monday, ending social distancing, allowing all venues to open with no restrictions on numbers and shutting down “work from home if can “advice: even though Covid infections rose last Friday to their highest level since early February.

But there are growing fears that the move will cause chaos, confusion and anger as more organizations and businesses go their own way and impose rules that are at odds with the new loose government regime. It emerged last week that several chain restaurants and pubs, including Rare Restaurants and City Pub Group, planned to insist on wearing masks and social distancing after July 19.

The high NHS figures are raising fears about the impact of ending mask use in hospitals, saying it will mean more infections, including those of staff, and worsen the backlog of non-Covid operations, which now stands at more than five million.

Government officials are already examining whether fully vaccinated NHS workers should be allowed to avoid self-isolation to ease pressures.

Party people in Soho in December
Party people in Soho in December; There are fears that similar crowds will gather indoors once social distancing ends. Photograph: Henry Nicholls / Reuters

Sarah-Jane Marsh, executive director of the Birmingham NHS Trust for Women and Children, who served as director of testing in the government’s testing and tracing program, said: “We are all concerned about how we will ensure that members of the public wear any mask on our sites post the 19th. We already face huge challenges with adherence and have no real means to enforce. It’s a legal requirement now, but more and more people are refusing and becoming more assertive about it. “

Chris Hopson, executive director of NHS Providers, said a combination of self-isolation, mounting pressures from infections and cumulative staff losses since the onset of the pandemic is likely to create problems this summer. “A trust [is] predicting a 20% total absence rate in three weeks that will result in 900 lost trades, ”he said. “The Delta variant, now the dominant variant, is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, first identified in Kent. Therefore, the risk of nosocomial infection (patients and staff who acquire Covid-19 in healthcare settings) is proportionally higher. “

Unions representing workshop workers have also contacted ministers about the threat to their health from the end of the mask-wearing rules, with concerns that key workers, often in poorly-placed jobs paid, are those most at risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is becoming increasingly vocal about the dangers of the government’s plans. Without referring to the prime minister by name, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO Covid-19 technical lead, said allowing the disease to spread and infect others “by not implementing consistently proven actions that prevent infections, reduce the spread, prevent disease and save lives is immoral, unethical and unscientific. “

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