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Level 5 restrictions coming into effect this week: “These restrictions will not last forever,” says Whitty

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COVID UPDATE: Level 5 restrictions and extra measures taken by the public and corporate Britain have already started to become part of daily life this week: stricter mask-wearing protocols

Morrisons has led the challenge of the UK supermarkets to bar customers who refuse to wear face coverings from its shops.

Sainsbury’s has also joined the challenge. Supermarket security guards will be extra vigilant in enforcing the new shop rules by asking for proof of a medical exemption for those entering shops without a mask. Some stores provide free masks, but failure to bring one, will mean being turned away at the entrance if the shop does not supply them for free.

The new, more transmissible variant of the COVID-19 disease is spreading rapidly across the country and having tragic consequences. This week the four UK Chief Medical Officers and the NHS Medical Director recommended raising the national alert level to the maximum of level 5 for the first time.

“We have faced several grave moments during our battle against coronavirus. But right now, the country is perhaps facing the most serious yet,” said Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty on national alert levels

This means that without further action there is a material risk of our healthcare services being overwhelmed within 21 days. Since then the situation has deteriorated further, said Whitty.

Whitty warns that this means that the time people wait for care will continue to increase to potentially unsafe levels, hospitals won’t have room to take redirected emergency cases in regional networks, staff to patient ratios which are already stretched will become unacceptable even in places likes intensive care.

“There will be avoidable deaths,” said the Chief Medical Officer. “NHS staff are doing their absolute best, and working remarkably; we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude, but even they have limits.”

“Every unnecessary interaction you have could be the link in a chain of transmission which has a vulnerable person at the end,” he said.

Whitty reiterated that, “These restrictions will not last forever…People will be reunited.”

With new vaccines, drugs and tests on the way, in record time, the Medical Chief said that the developments offer “hope and a clear way out”, but “we are not there yet, and should not act as if we are.”

A new tier 5 – what could it mean?

The government’s weariness of committing to a March-style England-wide lockdown, with people in effect ordered to stay at home beyond vital tasks or exercise, is likely to be cast aside to save lives and curb life threatening hospital crowding across the UK .

One option could be to introduce on a regional level a Tier 5 lockdown, which could include new measures such as night-time curfews and no mixing with other households even in an outdoor setting for one hour of daily exercise.

Stricter mask-wearing rules, such as wearing a mask even when outdoors at all times in populated areas, and encouraging children and teachers to wear masks are other measures that could reduce contact with the virus and help stop the spread to families and the larger community.

Prof Whitty suggested people may want to wear masks in some outdoor situations. He told the BBC that outdoor contact is generally low risk, but if people are queuing tightly or “huddled together round a market stall, that is a risk… In that situation there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks.”

Holding off on school openings

The return of many secondary school students, and primary pupils in high-Covid areas such as London, has already been put off for at least two weeks, with a switch to online learning.

If regional Tier 5 measures are put in place we could see some areas hold off on opening schools to full capacity. It has been reported that some schools, even in the Tier 4 national lockdown have been at 50% capacity as parents are designated ‘frontline’ workers and sending children to school so that they can work. This is not surprising given the number of delivery drivers coming onto the labour market to meet most shopping needs as people stay away from public retail outlets to avoid the virus.

There is considerable pressure for all schools to be closed for longer coming from health officials and unions. Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   “Government must take responsibility for neglecting schools and colleges – bringing back pupils and staff into crowded buildings, with no social distancing, poor ventilation and no PPE – which has resulted in primary and secondary pupils being the two most infected age groups. Their ability, with the increased transmissibility of the new strains of the virus, to transmit COVID-19 to their households and into their communities, and to adults in schools – teachers, support staff and leaders – has caused such fear in education professionals.”

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