Senior doctors fear that growing non-compliance with the lockdown risks triggering a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
They also believe that Boris Johnson’s decision to start urging people to “stay alert” rather than “stay home” will confuse the public and make it even harder to enforce the restrictions on movement designed to save lives and protect the NHS.
Intensive care doctors are warning that “irresponsible” behaviour, such as people ignoring the rules to stay two metres apart during Friday’s VE Day anniversary celebrations, could lead to the numbers of people needing to be taken to hospital with the disease going up again.
Dr David Hepburn, an intensive consultant in Wales, tweeted: “Just watched the conga lines/street parties on the news. The nation has lost its fucking mind. We’re strapping in for the second wave.
“I’m so, so tired, and so pissed off. We’ve had a few days of respite and I was starting to feel hopeful. Can’t believe I was so naïve.”
Dr Ami Jones, another ICU specialist, tweeted a link to a table showing that the UK has the highest death rate in the world from Covid-19, even higher than the US.
She said: “Showing our supremacy in the world stats as we irresponsibly flout lockdown to celebrate VE Day in the worst fashion. Glad I’ve had a couple of weeks away from ITU to recuperate as the next wave is going to make this horrific statistic even worse. Things are about to get busy.”
Challenged about the accuracy of the graph, Jones replied: “I think it’s useful to show that we are nowhere near beating this, yet people are behaving like all of the risk is gone and life can go back to normal. Couldn’t be further from normal.”
Dr Mark Forrest, an intensive care doctor in the north-west of England, said he was “seriously worried” that ignoring the lockdown would increase the pressure on units like his.
He tweeted: “Our ICU already has more Covid cases than 2 weeks ago as more people go out. Ignoring lockdown has us seriously worried for the next few weeks.”
Their concern follows media coverage of people gathering in large groups on Friday, and in one case doing a mass conga, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day and also of large numbers of people sunbathing and picnicking on Saturday in London Fields in Hackney, east London.
Police officers are also voicing intense frustration at public behaviour. The scenes in London Fields led police to tweet: “We’re fighting a losing battle on patrol today. Literally hundreds of people sitting having pizza, beers, wines.”
The Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers in the capital, has also criticised the government’s “wishy-washy” response to the pandemic. Tougher measures were needed from the start, it said.
And senior police officer who survived a spell in intensive care with Covid-19 has criticised the public’s “increasingly blasé” attitude towards observing the lockdown.
Chief Supt Phil Dolby of West Midlands police tweeted: “A month ago today, on a ventilator & in a coma, I started to breath for myself! I am v disturbed by the increasingly blasé way ppl are treating the lockdown. With lack of answers around immunity, my family & I are going to remain shielding. I can’t go thru that again. #Covid19”.
Medical experts are also voicing deep unease about the government’s change in strategy in switching to “stay alert” rather than “stay home” as a key message, which the prime minister will formally unveil in his televised address at 7pm this evening about easing the lockdown
“We haven’t yet had a formal announcement of this, but if it is indeed ‘stay alert’, it’s hard to be clear what that means, as opposed to ‘stay inside’,” said Prof Simon Wessely, the regius professor of psychiatry at King’s College London (KCL) and director of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response.
“Research in similar situations shows that what the public most want is specific guidance on what to do and what not to do. I am not sure how this answers that,” added Wessely, an ex-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Prof Til Wykes, the vice-dean of the institute of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience at KCL, said “stay alert” would lead to more risky behaviour. “The one thing that helps the population is clear, concise and accurate messaging. This one is concise only,” she said.
“The previous message to ‘stay home’ was at least clear. What does ‘stay alert’ mean? It will just be confusing, be open to misinterpretation and likely to increase risky behaviour. That means taking risks that will affect everyone and increase infections.”