Sheffield health experts cast doubt on lifting lockdown by region

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Two medical experts from Sheffield have cast doubt on the feasibility of lifting the UK’s lockdown by region.

The Government has said the strict measures currently in place could be lifted in some parts of the country before others, depending on the number of cases. Under this proposal, those areas where fewer outbreaks have taken place could begin to come out of lockdown sooner.

But Sheffield’s top public health official said he thinks this option is unlikely.

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Greg Fell, the director of Public Health in Sheffield, told The Star: “I don’t think we will lift by region. How do you insulate South Yorkshire from the West Midlands or West Yorkshire? I live in Leeds and work in Sheffield, so would I be allowed to travel?”It would be operationally difficult and complicated.”

Greg Fell.Greg Fell.
Greg Fell. | JPIMedia

That doubt was echoed by Dr Andrew Lee, a reader of public health at Sheffield University.

He said: “The difficulty the Government will have is it might create a mixed message. You might find members of the public not complying because they say ‘why is Sheffield being allowed out first’.

“I have a lot of sympathy for the Government, they have to try and tackle that fine balance.”

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Mr Fell admitted he was unsure how the lockdown would be eased.

He said: “I don’t know how it will happen, those are decisions for the Cobra committee and my suspicion is that those conversations are happening now.”

Dr Lee added: “The key thing is to get the [infection] numbers down to a really low level then we can use the old-fashioned public health measures of tracking people down and quarantining people. We can do what we did.”

That strategy is known as contact tracing. It was used in the early stages of the virus in England before Public Health England became “overwhelmed”, Mr Fell said.

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But on Thursday the Government confirmed the infrastructure was being put in place so that contact tracing could be rolled out on a large scale. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK plans to use a "rigorous programme of test, track and trace" to learn where coronavirus is and where it had been in the country.