Social distancing likely to stick around all year, says BMA NI chair

Mask wearing and social distancing in Northern Ireland is likely to stick around for the rest of the year, the head of a leading medical body believes.

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 7:01 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 8:29 am

The chair of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland Dr Tom Black, was speaking to the News Letter as Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed a delay to the proposed June 21st reopening date for England.

The PM confirmed the proposed lifting of all legal restrictions on social contact would be postponed as he addressed the nation during a Downing Street press conference yesterday evening.

While the decision does not directly impact on Northern Ireland, where no indicative date for removing all restrictions has been set, Dr Black said it is likely some limits on social distancing would remain for the rest of 2021.

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“The concern we have is the delta variant and the effect it will have on transmission, which we know is increased, and on admission to hospital, which we know is increased,” he said.

“We definitely need to pause to see what effect this will have on the NHS, and on illness in our community.

“While we’re all very keen to ease restrictions, we’re all very keen to get back to normal, I don’t think we should be talking about easing the wearing of masks, hand washing or social distancing. Those are three things I think we’re going to have for the rest of the year.”

He said that when it comes to easing remaining restrictions on the hospitality industry, the “granular data” will be important.

“Certainly in terms of hospitality, retail and allowing people to get back to normal lives I think we should move as fast as we can but I think this is definitely an occasion for pause, to see what the lag period tells us.”

He continued: “If you have all the adults vaccinated with the second dose, or at least 80% and preferably 90% vaccinated with the second dose, you have really taken the pressure off the health service, reduced the risk of serious harm and death, and you can definitely start easing up on restrictions.

“It will depend on the granular data at the time as to whether we can start opening hospitality back up to what it was before. We don’t know, to be honest.

“We will also have the problem of teenage and childhood transmission of the virus, and we will still have a decision to make at some stage in the near future about the use of vaccinations in children. We’ve also got a decision around whether we start using vaccine passports, or whether people who have had two vaccines to have greater freedoms.”

Dr Black added: “There’s a lot of devil in the detail.”