Public health officials accuse ministers of ‘misjudging risk’ as lockdown measures are eased across England
People on the beach at Southsea, Hampshire, ahead of the easing of lockdown measures from Monday. (PA)
Senior public health officials have accused ministers of “misjudging the balance of risk” as a wave of coronavirus lockdown measures are eased in England from Monday.
The Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said it was “increasingly concerned” that the Government was lifting “too many restrictions, too quickly”.
From Monday, groups of up to six people will be allowed to meet each other in outdoor spaces, including private gardens, provided those from different households stay two metres apart.
Outdoor retail stores and car showrooms are being allowed to reopen, while reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils will begin returning to primary schools.
The move comes after the Government confirmed that its “five tests” for easing the lockdown had been met.
Prime Minister Johnson said: “That is not my achievement or the government’s achievement - it is your achievement, only possible thanks to your resolve and dedication to our national purpose to overcome this virus.”
But, in a new statement, the ADPH, which represents senior public health officials in the UK, said it feared the Government was “misjudging this balancing act and lifting too many restrictions, too quickly”.
And it issued a last-ditch plea to halt the Government's 'stage two' plan to begin exiting lockdown.
The body warned: “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 ADPH said the Government’s “room for manoeuvre” in easing lockdown measures while keeping the reproduction rate of the virus, known as R, below 1, remained “tight”.
And it said it was “not yet confident” that the Government had a “sufficiently effective” testing system in place to map a resurgence of Covid-19.
“As ever, the ADPH will continue to be as constructive as possible and as challenging as necessary,” it said.
”But, let’s be clear, 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. Directors of Public Health are working at extraordinary pace to develop Local Outbreak Plans.”
The body added: “Now is the time for steady leadership, careful preparation and measured steps.
“The ADPH is calling for full implementation of all Phase 2 measures to be delayed until further consideration of the ongoing trends in infection rates and the R level gives more confidence about what the impact of these will be.
“There also must be a renewed drive to promote the importance of handwashing, social distancing and self-isolating if symptomatic, positive for COVID, or a contact of someone who is. And, additional assurance is required that the NHS Test and Trace System will be able to cope with the scale of the task.”
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Sunday, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged the “quite limited” room for manoeuvre in easing the measures.
But he said ministers were “reasonably confident” that the lifting of some curbs was manageable.
Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “As we move forward with the easing of our lockdown restrictions we encourage people to maintain all focus on maintaining social distancing.”
And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said ministers had followed “the scientific advice” before pressing ahead with the lifting of some lockdown measures.
“There are strict conditions that we need to see fulfilled - they have been fulfilled,” he told Sky News.
“The R [virus reproduction] level is below one. The death rate, if you look at the trend data, is coming down.
“We’ve got the testing and tracing system, we’ve got 25,000 tracers that have been recruited, we’ve started already the testing and tracing.
“We’ve got the capacity to make sure that... we can trace the people that have been in close contact with all of those cases.
“So we’re making all of that progress that we described and that’s the basis on which we can proceed to step two.”