Dr Chaand Nagpaul was calling for the introduction of measures which would protect millions of people who would not be eligible for the booster programme by the end of December
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Doctors are calling for the introduction of eight measures to slow the spread of Omicron, claiming the Government’s response is too reliant on the vaccine booster programme.
The British Medical Association (BMA) Chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, on Monday responded to the Government’s announcement that everyone in England over the age of 18 would receive a booster jab by the end of December.
“Despite describing the current situation as an ‘emergency’ with a ‘tidal wave’ of infections on the horizon, the Government’s response relying entirely on the vaccine booster programme is missing the wider measures required to control the spread of Omicron,” Dr Nagpaul said.
“The booster jab is an essential weapon in the fight against Omicron, and doctors in particular GPs and their teams when supported will be doing everything they can to create capacity to rise to this challenge to protect the nation at this time of urgent need.”
But the doctor went on to explain that such measures included protecting millions of people who would not be eligible for the booster programme by the end of December.
His call for action comes as the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) yesterday said the Omicron variant is causing an estimated 200,000 new infections per day.
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The staggering figure raises questions about whether there will be a need for fresh restrictions, with Boris Johnson refusing three times to rule out doing so before Christmas.
Online bookings for over-30s open on Tuesday, while 18-29 year-olds will be able to book their booster jabs from Wednesday.
However, Dr Nagpaul said it was estimated that 1 in 4 people would not be eligible for a booster by the end of December, because they will either currently be unvaccinated, or somewhere in the process of having the first two doses.
“Most are younger people, who are often the most socially mobile and most likely to inadvertently spread Covid,” he said.
Dr Nagpaul said the significant number of Brits that would not be due their booster for months into the new year was one of the key reasons as to why we needed additional protections over and above the vaccination programme.
- Mandatory wearing of face masks to be extended to all hospitality settings, unless eating or drinking
- Reintroducing two-metre social distancing rules in all indoor public settings
- Much more widespread use of lateral flow tests before social mixing in all settings should be the norm and the expectation for entry to all hospitality venues, regardless of vaccination status
- Limiting large indoor gatherings that risk accelerating the spread of the virus
- Legal requirements on ventilation in indoor public and educational settings
- Recommending the wearing of FFP2 masks (which provide protection for the wearer) in particular for those who are clinically vulnerable
- Infection control measures to be reintroduced in healthcare settings, including high-grade FFP3 masks where healthcare workers are seeing patients suspected or actual cases of patients with Covid
- We must also see the Government ensure enforcement and adherence of these measures, including financial support where appropriate to businesses that would be adversely impacted
The doctor said “robust infection control measures” were needed in the community, especially where people mix in indoor settings.
Eight measures proposed with the aim of slowing the spread of Omicron included mandatory wearing of face masks to be extended to all hospitality settings, unless eating or drinking, as well as reintroducing two-metre social distancing rules in all indoor public settings.
Dr Nagpaul, on behalf of the BMA, also proposed lateral flow tests are used in a more widespread sense before social mixing in all settings.
This suggestion was made by the BMA just hours before the news broke that Coronavirus lateral flow tests had run out again for the second day in a row.
On Tuesday morning a new message on the gov.uk website said 111, 119 and 999 did not have access to any more tests – as well as none being available for home deliveries.
Dr Nagpaul said lateral flow tests should be “the norm” and the expectation for entry to all hospitality venues, regardless of vaccination status.
The BMA recommendations also included limiting large indoor gatherings that risk accelerating the spread of the virus, and introducing legal requirements on ventilation in indoor public and educational settings.
FFP2 masks were recommended, in particular for those who were clinically vulnerable, and the reintroduction of infection control measures was recommended in healthcare settings, including FFP3 masks where healthcare workers are seeing patients suspected or actual cases.
Finally, the BMA recommendations said in addition to the Government ensuring enforcement and adherence of these measures, financial support should be made available to businesses that would be adversely impacted by their implementation.
“The BMA is calling for the Government to rethink its policy on vaccine passports based on being double vaccinated,” Dr Nagpaul said.
“Omicron has shifted the goalposts with studies showing you need the booster to be sufficiently protected against this new variant.”
Dr Nagpaul said the NHS was severely understaffed, which meant that delivering a mass booster programme as well as treating surges in infections while maintaining normal services, appointments and treatments was “potentially impossible”.
“Government must face the reality of that,” he said.
“General practice in particular is facing significant workforce shortages, meaning GPs and their teams cannot do everything for everyone all at the same time.”
There are significant backlog pressures within the NHS and large volumes of urgent unmet need that simply cannot be delayed. We are discussing with the Government and NHSEI how we can ensure patients get the care they need now and in the coming months.”
Finally, Dr Nagpaul called on the Government to “be honest” with the public about the impact of this new wave of infection on current healthcare services.
“This must not result in hardworking doctors being blamed, scapegoated, or subject to abuse for the reduction in access to routine services in hospital and general practice,” he said.
“This is not about introducing lockdown restrictions, but about safeguarding the NHS whilst maintaining a functioning society in a safe and responsible manner in the context of an exceptionally transmissible new variant.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.