LONDON (Reuters) - A second coronavirus wave is a real risk for Britain and local flare-ups are likely, major health bodies said on Wednesday, in one of the strongest warnings yet to Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he eases lockdown to help the economy.
Britain has one of the world’s highest death tolls from COVID-19 but infections have fallen. The government plans to lift many restrictions in England from July 4 to help an economy facing the deepest contraction in three centuries.
With fears of renewed spikes of infections concerning leaders around the world, some of Britain’s most eminent health leaders want urgent preparations for such a possible scenario.
“The available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk,” the medics said in a letter in the British Medical Journal.
It was signed by 15 of the most eminent health professional groups and trade unions including the heads of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the British Medical Association.
European nations emerging from shutdowns are nervously watching a new outbreak at a meat-packing plant in Germany, where two municipalities have regressed to lockdown.
Announcing that England was emerging from “hibernation”, Johnson is letting pubs, restaurants and hotels reopen from July 4. He urged vigilance but said the government did not believe there would be a second peak likely to overwhelm health services.
The official death toll rose by 154 to 43,081 on Wednesday.
Including deaths from suspected cases, the toll is over 54,000, the second highest after the United States.
Despite the high death toll, the International Monetary Fund forecast on Wednesday that Britain would suffer slightly less severe economic damage this year than most other big European economies.
Output is expected to fall 10% this year compared with just under 13% in France, Italy and Spain. Germany, which has a much lower death toll, is forecast to suffer an 8% hit, similar to the United States.
The head of the World Health Organisation emergencies programme Mike Ryan said every government would face setbacks.
“Science is still driving decision-making,” he said at a news conference. “The stepwise approach of the UK is the right way to go.”
Johnson, who was himself treated in intensive care for COVID-19, has faced criticism for imposing the lockdown too late, failing to supply enough protective equipment to medical staff and dithering over a test-and-trace system.
The medics’ letter called for a review focusing on “areas of weakness” to prevent a second wave.
In response, a spokesman for Johnson said authorities would continue to guarantee resources for health and care services while working closely with the National Health Service to prepare for the winter.
Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and David Milliken in London, Emma Farge in Geneva, John Miller in Zurich; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alison Williams