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Leading doctor optimistic NI can cope with second coronavirus wave if rules are followed

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Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Council in Northern Ireland

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Council in Northern Ireland

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Council in Northern Ireland

A leading medic has said he feels optimistic that Northern Ireland will be ready to cope with a potential second wave of coronavirus - if the rules are followed.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Council in Northern Ireland, made the comments after health leaders called for an urgent review to make sure the UK is prepared for another surge of the virus.

"Obviously as doctors, we are concerned that if we ease things too fast we will see a second spike or a development of hotspots," he said.

"But it is important to recognise that people have worked very hard and sacrificed a lot during lockdown so it is reasonable for social wellbeing and mental health that we have an easement on restrictions."

Dr Black said his main concern in the future would be reducing the rules on social distancing to one metre.

"I think if we're going to do that then we should be very careful about the use of masks, particularly indoors where people are not able to maintain social distance," he said.

On the new guidance allowing six people to meet up indoors, he said the use of face coverings should be seriously considered.

"I certainly won't be having friends or relatives around for dinner at this time. It's all about reducing the risk as much as possible," he said.

"With the easing of lockdown you increase your chance of exposure, but the advantage we have in Northern Ireland is that the rate of disease - what we call the prevalence - is low."

He was optimistic the contact tracing system would be effective in the event of a second spike, as Northern Ireland was the first UK region to establish a system and had a relatively low number of cases.

"That's certainly a crucial measure to make the easing of lockdown as safe as possible," he said.

"When we look at Germany and see that abattoir town which has had to go back into lockdown, we fully appreciate that if a part of Northern Ireland develops a lot of infections the area will have to go into lockdown again."

Dr Black added that a daily reporting system from GPs on patients who develop Covid-19 symptoms meant any localised outbreak should be spotted quickly.

Meanwhile, Green Party MLA Rachel Woods accused the Executive of having a "scattergun" approach to easing lockdown which risked undermining public confidence.

"There are glaring anomalies between the Executive's Coronavirus Recovery Plan and what has actually happened," she said.

"The five stages of the plan haven't been followed in a linear way and the recovery plan isn't joined up with. For example, non-essential retail reopened before restrictions on childcare provision have been relaxed."

She questioned why reopening had been fast tracked for certain sectors - such as restaurants, cafes and pubs, which were originally set out in step five of the recovery plan - but not for non-contact sport, which was set out in step two.

While recognising the Executive was following medical and scientific advice, she questioned why this was not available to the public.

"This, coupled with the Executive's approach to reopening, creates the impression that the plan is being rewritten on the hoof, according to which sector can shout the loudest," she added.

"The lack of supporting, detailed guidance even covering the basics makes it increasingly difficult for those sectors who can reopen to do so with confidence around safety."

In an open letter which was published in the British Medical Journal, health leaders from a range of organisations in the UK said an urgent review was needed to prevent more loss of life during the winter months.

This follows an announcement from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson that pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers may open from July 4. The two metre distancing rule is to be replaced by a one-metre plus rule, allowing people to stand one metre apart if necessary.

Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser, told Sky News he believed the latest measures were "extraordinarily risky" and said he believed that the Prime Minister had acted too quickly.

Belfast Telegraph