Covid lockdown UK: NHS England chief warns nation to 'hold its nerve'


NHS England’s national medical director has urged the nation not to ‘squander the gains’ made against coronavirus as he warned the virus can still ‘wreak more havoc’ ahead of a major easing of the lockdown tomorrow.

Professor Stephen Powis said Covid-19 still has the capacity to cause damage and ‘ill health on a significant scale’, citing concerns over new variants detected. 

The health chief added that the prospects ‘look immeasurably brighter and more positive’ but said that the easing ‘does not mean job done’.

He issued the warning ahead of groups of up to six, or two households, being able to socialise in parks and gardens once more as outdoor sports facilities reopen and the stay-at-home order ends in England. 

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prof Powis said: ‘We’ve made enormous progress that we need to build on and not squander the gains we’ve made. 

‘We need to hold our nerve and drive for the line, so everyone can get back safely and soon to our normal lives.’ 

Earlier, Boris Johnson said he is wary of the prospect of rising coronavirus infection rates, but sees ‘absolutely nothing in the data’ to halt the easing of the lockdown.

The Prime Minister acknowledged cases could again spiral as restrictions are relaxed but said the ‘key difference’ this time is that the rise in prevalence should be ‘sufficiently mitigated’ by the successful vaccine rollout.

NHS England's national medical director today warned the nation not to 'squander the gains' made against coronavirus ahead of a major easing of the lockdown tomorrow

NHS England’s national medical director today warned the nation not to ‘squander the gains’ made against coronavirus ahead of a major easing of the lockdown tomorrow

Professor Stephen Powis issued the warning ahead of groups of up to six, or two households, being able to socialise in parks and gardens once more as outdoor sports facilities reopen

Professor Stephen Powis issued the warning ahead of groups of up to six, or two households, being able to socialise in parks and gardens once more as outdoor sports facilities reopen

It comes amid allegations that foreign holidays are unlikely to be back on the cards until August despite plans to lift the domestic lockdown in June.

Britons booking trips abroad have been warned they are being ‘very optimistic’, with signs ministers will keep the legal ban on non-essential travel in place longer to minimise the risk of importing mutant Covid strains. 

Even once the restrictions are eased destinations with higher infection rates are expected to face extra rules such as quarantine.     

The grim message comes as Europe faces another wave of the disease, amid its struggling vaccine rollout.

Scientists have been cautioning that tougher borders might be the trade-off for loosening the lockdown, with households set to be allowed to mix outside from tomorrow for the first time in months.

However, Heathrow Airport is trying to salvage the situation by pushing a ‘traffic light’ plan for defending against countries where variants are identified. Under the plan putting an ‘amber alert’ on a destination would mean travellers face three days of quarantine and a tailored testing regime. 

In interviews this morning, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said international travel is ‘challenging’. Asked about the ‘traffic light’ idea, he told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday: ‘We’re exploring all these issues as part of the international travel taskforce.

‘We consider all options as part of the travel taskforce.

Boris Johnson said yesterday that he is wary of the prospect of rising coronavirus infection rates, but sees 'absolutely nothing in the data' to change his roadmap

Boris Johnson said yesterday that he is wary of the prospect of rising coronavirus infection rates, but sees ‘absolutely nothing in the data’ to change his roadmap

Government data up to Friday showed that 29,727,435 people in the UK have received a first jab, a rise of 411,305 on the previous day. The Government said a further 58 people had died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 126,573

Government data up to Friday showed that 29,727,435 people in the UK have received a first jab, a rise of 411,305 on the previous day. The Government said a further 58 people had died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 126,573

‘Clearly there are challenges around international travel, you only have to look across the continent and see the rising case rates in many of our nearest neighbours.

‘It has been in the past the case that those rising infection rates have seen their way to the UK, we’re hopeful that won’t happen this time round because of our progress with the vaccine and so on, but we do need to be cautious about that.’

Meanwhile, the UK was planning to offer 3.7 million jabs to Ireland, partly to help ease lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland, according to the Sunday Times.

It would be the first time Britain exported jabs to the EU and the newspaper reported a Cabinet minister saying it would be a ‘poke in the eye’ for Brussels amid a row over supplies.

The arrival of Moderna vaccines to the UK had been expected in spring, but the Mail on Sunday reported that the first 500,000 doses will arrive imminently in a boost for the rollout.

During a discussion at the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum yesterday, the Prime Minister said that a ‘third wave’ is being witnessed in parts of Europe and ‘bitter experience’ has taught him that this could hit the UK ‘three weeks later’.

But he added: ‘There’s lots of promising evidence that a lot of people who could be vulnerable are now protected against death and serious disease, that’s my hope, my hunch.’

Mr Johnson remained optimistic that his road map to easing England’s restrictions can continue, saying there is a ‘good chance’ of allowing non-essential retail reopening on April 12, when hairdressers are also earmarked to reopen.

‘In just a few days’ time, I’m finally going to be able to go to the barbers,’ he said in a subsequent speech.

‘But more important than that, I’m going to be able to go down the street and cautiously, but irreversibly, I’m going to drink a pint of beer in the pub.

‘And as things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our road map to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.’

Government data up to Friday showed that 29,727,435 people in the UK have received a first jab, a rise of 411,305 on the previous day.

The Government said a further 58 people had died within 28 days of a positive test for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 126,573.

In Wales, lockdown restrictions were eased when the ‘stay local’ requirement was dropped on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation. 

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