A second peak of Covid-19 infections is likely or very likely in the next six months, according to doctors and medical students surveyed by the BMA in the run-up to tomorrow’s Annual Representative Meeting.
In England, 86% of more than 8,000 respondents predicted a second peak, while in Northern Ireland 80% out of 500 respondents thought this to be likely.
The Department of Health and Social Care last week revealed that coronavirus rates in England are doubling every seven to eight days, as the reproduction (R) number may now be as high as 1.7.
Doctors stated as main risks for causing a second peak:
- The failure of the test and trace system;
- Lack of monitoring and adherence to infection control measures in public places;
- Confusing public health messages on physical distancing and face coverings.
In response, they called for:
- A fit for purpose test and trace system that is accessible and provides timely results;
- A coherent, rapid and consistent approach to local outbreaks;
- Clearer public information and more visible messaging on rules and guidelines, including those on people mixing with others from outside their household.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘These results come from thousands of GPs and hospital doctors and expose the fears of frontline clinicians – fears that come from their everyday experiences of treating patients with Covid and watching, the first time round, as the virus spread with alarming speed while the Government delayed efforts to overcome it.
‘We, as a profession, want, above all, to avoid a return to the scenes we saw in April, when hospitals were full with Covid-19 patients, and hundreds were dying every day. Meanwhile, thousands of others missed out on vital appointments and procedures as routine care was put on hold.
‘But while the forecast in this survey may be bleak, it is not an inevitability if the Government takes decisive, robust and timely action to stamp down the spread of the infection.
‘Over recent weeks and months we have seen the failures of test and trace, and ongoing confusing messages to the public on what they can and cannot do, which have resulted in escalation of the virus spreading – these have both been highlighted by doctors as key priorities to get right if we are to stand a chance of preventing a second peak this winter.’
The news comes as the Government’s new ‘rule of six’ regulations come into force in England today, limiting the number of people who can gather indoors or outdoors to six at any one time.
But Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Today’s new measures may attempt to simplify the message and increase enforcement, but it is clear that fundamental other issues urgently need to be tackled. This includes sorting out the test and trace debacle once and for all. It is unacceptable that people and contacts with the infection are not being identified due to failings in the system – which is resulting in the infection spreading blindly.
‘With daily cases still alarmingly high, and winter just around the corner, we are at a critical crossroads in the fight against this deadly virus. All efforts must be made to avoid a repeat of the horror and tragedy we all experienced earlier this year.’
The news comes as Healthcare Leader’s sister title, Pulse, revealed last week that GPs are being left unable to work because they struggle to get Covid tests for themselves or their children.
Doctors meeting for the BMA’s ARM tomorrow will vote on motions concerning the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and doctor pay in its first virtual conference.
A version of this story first appeared in our sister title Pulse.