By Louise Prime.
The government has “failed to get a grip on COVID-19” and should commit to policies aimed at achieving near-elimination of SARS-CoV-2 infection nationally for the long-term benefit of the public, even if this means making tough sacrifices in the short term, doctors have urged. Delegates at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual conference, the ARM – held online only this year – called for stronger local and national measures to control the virus.
The emergency motion that the BMA put to delegates read: “That this meeting notes that in the past few weeks, we have seen alarming rises in the rates of new COVID-19 infections to a higher level than when we went into lockdown, albeit in a younger population with a lower risk of admission to ITU and subsequent death.
“In order to prevent the need for further national lockdowns, with all of the adverse impacts that this may have on the education of our younger generation, the economy, older adults in care, mental health and social isolation, this meeting calls on governments to pursue a policy of near-elimination of SARS-COV-2.”
In its briefing to delegates before asking them to vote on the motion, the BMA explained that by a near-elimination policy it meant “an approach intended to drive the incidence of new cases of COVID-19 down to such low levels that: any cases that do occur will largely be reintroductions; and any cases can be well controlled through testing and contact tracing to prevent onward spread”. It said that the strategy to achieve this might involve:
- much more widespread and visible public messaging, including clear and consistent public health advice and expert updates
- setting and communicating clear targets for daily and weekly incidence and trigger points for the implementation of specific additional measures both locally and nationally, with greater restrictions on social mixing that are in line with disease incidence
- implementing a focused strategy to reduce transmission in potential ‘hot-spots’
- strengthening border arrangements and in some cases closing border points of entry, as well as a more enforceable or managed approach to quarantining individuals arriving from overseas; perhaps also setting criteria for non-essential travel
- greater monitoring and enforcement of COVID-secure arrangements in public settings and workplaces.
BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English commented: “Instead of the number of cases going down, we are seeing a steady rise as the government is clearly failing to get a grip on the virus with the current approach. The chaos we have seen unfolding with the test and trace system this week – with members of the public and healthcare workers struggling to get tests – is all the more evidence that the current strategy is failing. If the system cannot cope now, we are in real trouble as we move closer to winter and the possibility of a second peak.
“Rather than instilling a sense of confidence and adherence with each new measure the government introduces, there is a greater sense of confusion and frustration among the public as one rule seemingly contradicts another.
“A near elimination approach is really about putting the long-term needs of the public first. This is about sacrificing in the short-term to ensure that we can avoid a large-scale prolonged lockdown that would be ultimately much more detrimental to the health of our society.”
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