Letter: Be cautious with new Indian Covid variant

A student takes a COVID-19 test at a mass testing site

The BMA is clear that using lateral flow testing to enable social contact is by no means a green light for normal behaviour - Credit: PA

Letter from Dr Richard Jarvis, of the British Medical Association, on being cautious with easing of lockdown as Indian variant of Covid spreads.

With key segments of the population still not vaccinated and clusters of variants, including the rapidly increasing Indian variant, becoming a growing concern, we must approach this next stage of easing lockdown with the utmost caution.

It is a real worry that when further measures lifted on May 17, the majority of younger people who are often highly socially mobile and could therefore be most at risk of a more infectious strain, are not yet vaccinated.

Despite having the highest rates of positive tests throughout the pandemic, they will now be able to mix in larger groups in hospitality venues without many of the mitigations that have helped to push infection rates lower and lower since the start of the year.

We are urging the public, and young people in particular, to take a cautious approach to social and physical contact, to continue practising “hands, face, space” and to meet outdoors wherever possible.

Improving ventilation will be even more critical with the reopening of indoor venues and there is a need for explicit specifications on ventilation requirements.

This must be underpinned by the necessary financial support for public, work, school and leisure settings, including in the hospitality sector such as restaurants, bars and pubs, to ensure they can operate in a viable but safe way.

Fewer than one in a thousand people now have Covid-19 across Barnet, Camden and Haringey, according

Covid-19 test centres are a normal sight in London - Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

The BMA is clear that using lateral flow testing to enable social contact, including at large scale events, is by no means a green light for normal behaviour, and people need to understand it has limitations.

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A negative result from a lateral flow test should not be equated with the same low risk of spreading infection that comes from vaccination or recent proof of natural immunity through prior infection.

Local public health services are already overstretched managing the current level of local outbreaks and providing surge testing. So as the country opens for business and people move around more freely, including between regions with different prevalence of the virus, it is vital that local public health teams in local authorities and health protection units have the additional funding and staff they need to serve their local populations and any visitors effectively.

While the public and businesses can take precautions to keep themselves as safe as possible, it is the government which is steering the ship and must stand by its cautious approach.

To ensure we do not undo all the hard work and sacrifice of the previous lockdown, the government must continue to monitor the situation with extreme vigilance and have the willingness to act quickly and apply the brakes if needed to prevent the situation getting out of control.

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