Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/nclexion/public_html/wp-content/themes/jnews/class/ContentTag.php on line 47
Nursing unions have reacted with caution to the government’s new plan for easing the coronavirus lockdown, warning that issues around testing and protective equipment are far from resolved.
In a nationwide broadcast, prime minister Boris Johnson last night laid out a “conditional” roadmap for relaxing restrictions on society in England over the next two months.
“We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous”
As an immediate change, Mr Johnson said people who were unable to work from home – such as those in construction or manufacturing – should now be “actively encouraged” to return to work.
However, public transport should still be avoided where possible, added Mr Johnson.
The government was issuing new Covid-19 safety guidance for employers and public transport operators, he said.
From this Wednesday, people will be able to take “unlimited” outdoor exercise, including playing sports with household members.
Although Mr Johnson warned that the two-metre social distancing rules would be remain in place, with fines increased for those who flout them.
Step two of the roadmap would take place by 1 June at the earliest and would see the “phased reopening” of shops and primary school pupils allowed back to classrooms in stages.
The government would then look to reopen some hospitality venues and other public places by July at the earliest under stage three of the plan, although social distancing would still be enforced.
However, Mr Johnson stressed that the plan was “conditional”, dependent on how the UK was faring against the government’s five key requirements for easing restrictions.
These include protecting the NHS from being overwhelmed, observing a sustained fall in death rates and keeping the rate of infection under control, and eliminating the risk of a second peak.
Crucially for health and care workers, the fifth condition is ensuring a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep staff safe.
Mr Johnson said: “We must sort out our challenges in getting enough PPE to the people who need it, and yes, it is a global problem but we must fix it.”
A new “Covid alert system” has been set up to monitor the UK’s progress in tackling the virus, producing an alert level determined by the virus reproduction rate and number of cases.
“Nursing staff across the UK are imploring the public to remember that this pandemic is far from over”
The scale will run from one to five, with level one meaning the disease is no longer present in the UK, and five meaning the NHS is struggling to cope.
The lockdown rules would be amended according to the UK’s position on the scale, said Mr Johnson. “The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be,” he warned.
While progress had been made on some of the conditions laid out, “we have by no means fulfilled all of them”, said Mr Johnson, citing testing and tracing as an area in need of further improvement.
He added: “We have been through the initial peak – but it is coming down the mountain that is often more dangerous.
“We have a route, and we have a plan, and everyone in government has the all-consuming pressure and challenge to save lives, restore livelihoods and gradually restore the freedoms that we need. But in the end this is a plan that everyone must make work.”
Mr Johnson was due to set out further details on the roadmap in parliament today.
Responding to the prime minister’s broadcast, Dame Donna Kinnair, Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary, said PPE and testing for staff must be prioritised.
She said: “Nursing staff across the UK are imploring the public to remember that this pandemic is far from over.
“Please think about our health and care workers, working under tremendous pressure, and respect the guidance being given.
“The prime minister has said it is important to ensure nurses and key workers have the protective equipment and testing they need. This has to be a priority.
“Their safety must not be compromised by crowded public transport”
“Until our members report they are getting all they need, it is hard to see how the lockdown could be relaxed further.”
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, echoed Dame Donna’s comments on PPE and testing and also raised concerns about health worker safety on public transport.
He said: “Many health, care and other key workers use trains, buses and tubes to get to work. Their safety must not be compromised by crowded public transport.
“The government must ensure the NHS and the care sector have guaranteed supplies of protective equipment and there’s a comprehensive test, track and trace programme in place before any mass return to work.”
Meanwhile, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair from doctor’s union the British Medical Association, dismissed Mr Johnson’s plan as “too fast, too confusing and too risky” and said it risked allowing a second peak.
He criticised a lack of details over how people returning to work would be protected both at work and on public transport, as well as how social distancing would continue to be monitored when people were allowed more freedom outdoors.
In addition, Dr Nagpaul said the level of testing to monitor the spread of infection remained “far below the capacity needed”.
“It is imperative that we do not risk people mixing with each other without the ability to rigidly adhere to social distancing,” he added.
“Without this assurance, lives are still at risk and the NHS is still at risk
“Much of the government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic have so far been inconsistent and lacking the absolute caution needed.
“We need to see clear plans and be confident that the shortcomings of the past are not repeated in the road map out of lockdown.”