Chris Whitty says Covid restrictions should not be relaxed as Sheffield’s infection rate falls

The chief medical officer for England has cast doubt on the potential for social distancing restrictions to be relaxed over the winter period beyond what has already been announced by Government.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 9:18 am

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, told the Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care committees that “very few people” would recommend easing restrictions during the winter.

Asked what proportion of people would need to be vaccinated for social distancing measures to be eased, he told MPs: “I think very few people would recommend starting to really remove things during a high-risk period of the year, which the winter always will be for respiratory infections, until you have got the tiers which the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) has laid out covered.

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Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty attends a virtual news conference (Photo by Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

“Because those are the ones who are by far the most likely to die and they are the ones who are by far most likely to end up in the NHS.

“That does leave a lot of people who could, for example, have all the syndrome of things that are currently called long Covid, there are a variety of other medical things, it’s not that that will get rid of the problem completely.

“Once you have got to that stage, I think a conversation about now what do we want to do next becomes a really important conversation.”

He added: “If you only were to vaccinate those 20 million people, the numbers are rough but for the sake of argument, you are still going to have a lot of people who are susceptible.

A woman wearing a face mask passes a coronavirus advice sign in Sheffield.

“That will not produce population immunity even if it prevents transmission. So what that will do is substantially reduce mortality, significantly reduce the impact on the NHS, but it will still leave a lot of people who could become ill with this, and could in some cases have serious outcomes.”

At the moment three ‘bubbles’ will be allowed to meet over a Christmas ‘grace period, between December 23 and 27.

After that people will have to continue to abide by the tier-based restrictions placed upon them based on where they live.

Sheffield’s Director for Public Health has said that the decision on whether Sheffield will remain in Tier 3 is down to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.