A second wave of coronavirus infections in the UK is “quite a possibility”, according to England’s deputy chief medical officer.
Dr Jenny Harries said the reimposition of lockdown measures in Leicester, following a local spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, is a “very good lesson” for the rest of the country
She did not rule out further waves of coronavirus infections across the UK – or even a second peak in the country’s overall epidemic – but stressed action would be taken to prevent localised flare-ups from becoming a wider problem.
Dr Harries spoke at a Downing Street news conference on Thursday – the first coronavirus briefing from Number 10 since daily press conferences were scrapped more than a week ago.
Quizzed on the impact of all pupils returning to school in September, she and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson denied that Leicester’s rise in COVID-19 cases was due to some already returning to classrooms last month.
Dr Harries said: “For Leicester, clearly it’s not just the teenagers.
“What we’re seeing is a community transmission, a rise in cases across the community.
“I think it is, sadly for Leicester, a very good lesson for the rest of the country in a way.
“We all need to, as we go forward with the easing of lockdown measures, still to be really careful about how we interact with others about social distancing, about washing your hands.”
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Mr Williamson, who has announced that mandatory attendance will be introduced when the new academic year starts, said that Leicester’s localised lockdown “was not something about schools returning”.
“Schools play an incredibly positive part and role in the wider society,” he said.
“And it would be very misleading to imply that they had a role, in terms of any form of spread in Leicester.”
Schools across the UK were closed in March to all pupils apart from children of key workers and the most vulnerable, with some years allowed to return on 1 June.
Dr Harries was asked about the possibility of a second shutdown of schools, should there be a second peak in UK coronavirus infections.
The deputy chief medical officer replied said: “I think a second wave is quite a possibility, that is not ruled out at all. A second peak, as in an epidemic peak, another one, is also not ruled out.
“In fact, in pandemics, you can sometimes see successive ones – so we’re talking about a second, but you can get waves and waves.
“We’re starting to see, I think, if you look at the maps across the world… you can see these peaks now rising in regions and falling and some rising again.”
Schools and non-essential shops have been closed again in Leicester under the reimposition of lockdown measures.
“What we’re seeing in Leicester now is what is much more likely to happen as we go forward,” Dr Harries added.
“That’s positive in some ways. It may not feel like that if you live in Leicester at the moment.
“But it should reassure parents that where there are local rises that we start to see, that the focus of energy is on ensuring that they do not become another peak.”
But asked if she could reassure parents there was no additional risk in sending children back, Dr Harries said: “We can’t guarantee absolute safety for anybody anywhere in the UK, so I think we just need to be very realistic.”