BMJ slams ‘blunder’ that will cost many lives

The UK government has been taken to task by the editors of two prestigious British medical journals who have called the decision to relax COVID-19 restrictions over Christmas a “blunder” that will “cost many lives”.

In just the second time in a century, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal published a joint editorial that provides a scathing indictment of the government’s decision to relax restrictions over Christmas for a five-day period.

The plan will allow up to three households to mix from December 23-27 to form a Christmas bubble. A day either side will be added for those in Northern Ireland to allow for travel.

But health professionals have branded the idea a “mistake” that could seed a new wave of infections across the country as people travel to visit family and mix in private homes.

It comes as London, parts of Essex and Herefordshire have also just entered tier 3 restrictions – the toughest level – stretching the logic of why pubs and restaurants are being forced to close if all the gains could be wiped out in a five-day festive period.

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Tuesday’s editorial said the government must “reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five day Christmas period.”

“In order to bring numbers down in advance of a likely third wave, it should also review and strengthen the tier structure, which has failed to suppress rates of infection and hospital admission.”

“We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS.”

The editorial said a deadly third wave would test NHS capacity at a busy winter time and have a devastating effect on those waiting for treatment for other conditions. It said average wait times for surgery are already 12 months, which could increase even further, leading to loss of life.

“Of particular concern is the effect on staff, many of whom have already worked through the hardest nine months of their professional lives,” the editorial warned. “Levels of burnout and sickness absence are likely to exceed those already experienced.”

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The government has said plans to allow Christmas bubbles are now “under review” with ministers advising each family to weigh up their own risks. However some claim the mental health aspects of gathering with others are important after a difficult year for many.

Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay said he wanted families to be able to meet but would not see his own parents.

“We’ve got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation,” he said, adding that restrictions will remain in place outside the “bubble” scenario.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for an urgent review.

“I understand that people want to spend time with their families after this awful year, but the situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse since the decision about Christmas was taken. It serves no-one for politicians to ignore this fact,” he said.

The UK has recorded more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, with an overall rate of around 181 cases per 100,000 people.

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