Bath’s top public health official has issued a stark warning about the possible consequences of loosening Covid-19 restrictions.
Bruce Laurence, director of public health at Bath and North East Somerset Council, said “multiple waves, multiple lockdowns and many more deaths” may occur unless people observe social distancing.
Dr Laurence’s advice comes after the government announced it was relaxing the strict 2m rule put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus in favour of a “1m plus” approach to help unlock the economy.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said that, from 4th July, where it is “not possible” to stay 2m apart, people may maintain a distance of “1m plus” as long as they take precautions such as wearing face coverings and not sitting face-to-face.
The day after Mr Johnson’s announcement, the local authority at Bournemouth declared a “major incident” as massive crowds flocked to the seaside resort on the hottest day of the year, ignoring social distancing rules.
Addressing the public’s response to the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, Dr Laurence told a cross-agency health group that it was vital for members of the public to remain vigilant and follow the rules.
He said: “We’re loosening the rules now. Every loosening of a rule brings a certain level of risk.
“The virus doesn’t change its behaviour because the rules change. The virus is there to spread at every opportunity, as fast as it can.
“The more you distance, the more you take the rules seriously – whether you’re a business owner or a member of the public – the better chance we’ll have of getting through this without having multiple waves, multiple lockdowns and many more deaths.
“Already, I think you’re seeing on television how fragile it is, people’s willingness to distance, to take this seriously.
“It’s everyone’s role to say this is serious, this hasn’t gone anywhere.”
The B&NES local authority area has one of the lowest numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in England.
Dr Laurence said there was probably anywhere between 50 and 200 people infected with Covid-19 in B&NES at any given time.
“It means if people are careful and behave well, if we can get on top of outbreaks quickly, we’ve got a good chance of getting through this reasonably well,” he said.
“Of course, that must not make us complacent.
“At least 95 per cent of us are ‘Covid virgin’, waiting to be infected, and that’s even if infection gives immunity and we don’t know if it does yet.”
Dr Laurence said no one knows what will happen next because there is so much uncertainty about how the virus will behave, whether infected survivors are immune, how government policy will change, who people will behave, how new systems will work, and whether we will ever have better treatments, a vaccine and a contact tracing app.
Dr Laurence presented the B&NES Local Outbreak Management Plan for Covid-19 to members of the council’s cross-agency health and wellbeing board on 23rd June.
The plan, which all local authorities must produce, sets out the steps that will be taken to enable residents to resume their normal lives as far as possible while being protected from the threat still posed by Covid-19.
It aims to ensure testing and tracing and any necessary self-isolation occurs as thoroughly and as rapidly as possible, and that new outbreaks are identified as quickly as possible, especially outbreaks among the more vulnerable groups.
It includes specific prevention and response plans for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and high-risk settings such as care homes and schools.
B&NES Council has received £849,000 of £300million of government funding for all “upper tier” local authorities to help implement the plan.
The council is just one of many partners that will implement the plan, and the partnership will with neighbouring local authorities and other organisations such as the NHS and Public Health England.
Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter