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Cabinet member for health says future winter restrictions are 'on the table'

James Bagley, Local Democracy Reporter

Restrictions for future winters are ‘on the table’, says the Royal Borough’s health cabinet member as the third national lockdown grips England.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty suggested a ‘few’ restrictions might have to be brought in next winter as the virus will not completely disappear by spring – despite the UK’s mass vaccine rollout.

Councillor Stuart Carroll (Con, Boyn Hill), lead member for adult social care, children’s service, health, and mental health, agreed some restrictions will be ‘on the table’ as winter usually puts pressure on the NHS due to influenza.

He said: “I think if we have another virus that’s preeminent in future years, then we are going to have to look long and hard at a system resilience and preparedness.

“I think that’s got to be about the NHS having the right level of investment and reform to ensure that it can be as much as possible on the front foot to deal with these kinds of viruses.

“But I think the ultimate answer here is vaccination as a way to get out of A) a pandemic, B) any epidemic, and C) we, in the future, to control any virus, and that’s true with any infectious disease.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government will vaccinate around two million people a week and all four priority groups will be vaccinated around mid-February.

Cllr Carroll, who is an epidemiologist and is on the UK’s vaccines task force, said that target is ‘ambitious and challenging’ – but it is ‘doable’.

He said: “You don’t do things because they’re easy, you do them because they’re hard. Nobody is suggesting this is going to be easy and it is hard, it’s extremely hard work.

“There’s a huge number of people across Government and the NHS working day and night, seven days a week, quite literally, on this.

“I think it is doable – but it does require ongoing coordination, professionalism, dedication, determination, and we mustn’t take our eye off the ball. It’s a day to day imperative to make sure everything is in place to deliver.”

He urged people who have been contacted by the NHS to go and get vaccinated because ‘you can only hit those targets if everybody goes and gets vaccinated’.

Before the lockdown was introduced, in Tier 4 areas – including the Royal Borough – cases were still rising.

When asked if the third national lockdown should’ve been introduced sooner, Cllr Carroll said: “Any Government in this situation is going to find this difficult because you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

“I do think one of the lessons potentially is that the critical thing is if you’re going to consider or contemplate a lockdown, you do need to do them early.

“Although, it can pull through with benefit, that benefit may be curtailed rather than actually biting the bullet and saying we’re going to do it now as painful and difficult it is, it is taking a pre-emptive strike on the virus to stop it spreading even further.

“I fully appreciate these are very, very difficult and complex decisions and, of course, any decision has an array of complications.”

Cllr Carroll also urged everyone to check in with one another during the lockdown and anybody suffering from mental health or who needs to see a GP to still reach out to the NHS for help.

He said: “The NHS is still there for everyone. Some may think it may be honourable during this period of great pressure on the NHS to almost to seek to ignore symptoms of other illness or other health concerns, it’s actually isn’t honourable to do that.

“You’re only likely to end up putting more work on the NHS when your illness or symptoms get worst and the NHS will then be put under more pressure rather than earlier intervention, earlier consultation with your GP who may be able to intervene much more quickly and help you accordingly.”

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