Top Medical Journals Are Warning Christmas Lockdown Easing Is A "Major Error"
Senior medics have issued a rare plea over Boris Johnson's "rash" plans to ease lockdown restrictions over Christmas, with fears the impact could overwhelm the NHS.
In a rare joint intervention, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Health Service Journal (HSJ) said the "rash decision" to allow household mixing over Christmas could lead to a third wave in cases that could swamp NHS resources in the new year.
On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the goverment would stick to the current proposals, which will see rules around travel and household mixing eased for five days over Christmas to allow families to spend time with each other.
But the decision has come under further pressure after it was announced that London and surrounding areas would be placed into Tier 3 restrictions later this week following a "sharp rise" in cases.
Mr Hancock also announced a new variant of the virus had been identified in England and claimed it could be behind the sudden lift in infections.
But the two journals said ministers would have to abandon their "claim to be protecting the NHS" if they pushed ahead with the plans.
"This joint editorial is only the second in the more than 100-year histories of The BMJ and HSJ," they wrote.
"We are publishing it because we believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS."
And the medics said according to their projections, the easing could lead to as many as 19,000 patients hopsitalised with the illness by New Year's Eve.
"This figure, derived by extrapolating a straight line from December 5 to December 14 through to December 31, would be almost exactly the same as the 18,974 peak of the first wave on April 12," they added.
"Since the UK’s first lockdown in March, the government has had one (perhaps only one) consistent message — protect the NHS,"
"Now, with the number of hospital patients with covid-19 again on the rise, and a third wave almost inevitable, the new year is likely to see NHS trusts facing a stark choice: be overwhelmed or stop most elective and non-urgent work. Rather than lifting restrictions over Christmas as currently planned, the UK should follow the more cautious examples of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands."
The stark warning comes after David Nabarro, one of the World Health Organisation's special envoys on Covid-19, claimed the cost of the relaxation "could well be very high".
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: "Just ask yourself, is there any way in which you can perhaps not have the family get-togethers this year?
"It's much better not to do it when there's this kind of virus about."
Meanwhile, in a potential sign that ministers were becoming concerned about the potential impact of the relaxation, Treasury Chief Secretary Stephen Barclay urged families to do the "minimum" allowed within the rules.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said: "We've got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation.
And he said the five-day period should not be "misintepreted" as a lifting of all restrictions, adding: "It's not that the restrictions are being lifted in their entirety - we're not going from tier three to some sort of tier zero."