'We are at a critical stage': Leading Leeds health experts join calls to delay easing of all lockdown restrictions amid 'concerning' rise in Covid-19 cases
Leading health experts in Leeds have joined the growing calls for a delay to the easing of all lockdown restrictions as Westminster prepares to make an announcement today on its looming June 21 ‘freedom’ date.
In line with the Government’s fourth stage of the roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdown, restrictions had been due to end a week today but Boris Johnson is believed to be poised to agree to a delay of up to four weeks amid concerns about the surge in cases of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
The case rate in Leeds rose by 81 per cent over the course of seven days last week and stood at 82.2 per 100,000 on Friday - with a spike among those aged 17-18, who have yet to receive the vaccine.
Leading Leeds GP Dr Richard Vautrey said this was a “critical stage of the pandemic” and called for more time to complete the vaccination programme before all restrictions are lifted.
He said: "It is imperative that we follow the data. That’s what the Government has said all along and what they must do.
"We have to recognise that we are in a critical stage of the pandemic where the Delta variant is increasing.
"And what we can ill-afford to do is give that greater opportunity to spread by reducing some of the restrictions on social distancing and wearing masks which would put more and more people, who have yet to be vaccinated, at risk."
Dr Vautrey also chairs the General Practitioners’ Committee of the British Medical Association, which on Friday added its voice to those calling for a delay to the June 21 date so more people can receive their second dose - which they say is needed for full protection from the Delta variant.
"We have seen a rise in infections in Leeds in recent weeks and days and that is a concern," he said.
“We know that Leeds practices, community pharmacies and vaccine centres are working as hard as they can, using all the available vaccines we have to vaccinate as many people fully as possible.
"We would encourage everybody to take up their appointments when it comes around for their second dose and take up appointments when offered for their first dose."
He added: "It is a concern that we still have a limited number of vaccines available and we would like to be able to vaccinate quicker but as soon as we get the vaccines we are giving them to our patients as quickly as possible."
Prof Mark Harris, a virology expert at the University of Leeds, urged the Government not to bow to "political pressure" and instead "err on the side of caution".
He said: "I think it is too early. Social distancing and masks forever is unlikely but [we need to] take our time. We are not completely protected as a society."
He added: "We have been in this pandemic for 15 months, another few weeks will not make a lot of difference but it will save lives.
"We will be living with it forever. We will not get rid of it, there is too much around but we will limit the amount that is present by the vaccine. They will prevent it from growing. The less it grows, [the less it] spreads and changes to be a new variant."
Leeds City Council last week said the recent rise in cases was consistent with other cities where the May 17 easing of restrictions had meant more social contact, coupled with the more transmissible Delta variant.
Cases are expected to continue to rise over the coming weeks but officials said they were confident they could deal with any clusters or outbreaks.
Council leader James Lewis said at the time: "What remains key is that we are able to stay ahead of that spread and to make sure people in Leeds of all ages stay safe and informed.
"We are confident that locally we have a robust and resilient network of partners, all working together to respond quickly and efficiently to this rise in cases among young people and to keep on top of any clusters."
Coun Lewis also said the authority was "constantly pushing" for vaccine supply levels to remain strong to meet the city’s needs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that no final decision had been taken on lifting coronavirus restrictions on June 21.
He told a press conference on Sunday: "We are continuing to look at the data, no final decision has been taken, and the right time to fill everybody in on what we are going to do with step four with June 21 is tomorrow, as I have said.
"That's when we will be putting out the whole package of information so that everyone can see it together."
An announcement on his final decision is expected later today.
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