Lancashire health boss rejects regional tiers system after lockdown, says "nation must be in this together"
Lancashire's public health director has rejected the idea of regional "tier" restrictions when the country leaves lockdown.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi told BBC Breakfast that as a nation, "we are in it together", and must avoid returning to the tier system imposed on different cities and regions last year.
He also urged the country to "be patient" whilst restrictions are gradually lifted, to avoid a surge of new infections in the weeks that follow, and called for the vaccine programme to target "poorer communities where infections are higher".
"It’s very clear whenever we have lifted lockdowns, there is a surge in the number of cases. We must be very, very careful in not repeating the same mistakes that we did in the summer and during Christmas time," he began.
In moving the country forward, he rejected the idea of a return to regional tier restrictions in favour of a national approach.
"I think the national approach is the right approach," he added, saying "as a nation, we need to be patient" before restrictions are completely lifted.
"We are in it together," he continued. "Perhaps we have to be a bit more patient and get the basics right and wait for every area’s levels to come down much further first."
Dr Sakthi also said the vaccine roll-out is going "very well" in Lancashire, but urged caution in easing restrictions, saying new infections are beginning to grow among working age groups.
"It's great news that vaccines are being rolled out faster," he said.
"We are doing very well (in Lancashire) thanks to our NHS colleagues, as well as wider public sector partners and volunteers. We are in the top 10 in terms of the percentage of people that have actually had the vaccines in the top 4 priority groups.
"But of course, in areas like Lancashire, as in many parts of the country, the epidemic is shifting to the working age population which have largely not been vaccinated yet.
"We have brought infection rates very low particularly in the older people where there is also vaccination. Regardless of that, when we lift the restrictions the cases are going to go up.
"We are seeing that infections are now much higher in lower age groups, the lower priority categories. Therefore, each step will have to be carefully evaluated before further restrictions are lifted."
Dr Sakhti said he was confident that Lancashire, and the UK, is moving in the right direction, but said the nation has to strike a careful balance between keeping infection rates down and helping the economy.
He said he believes that some strict measures will need to remain in force for months to come - including social distancing measures, face masks and border patrols - until we "can be sure" that another lockdown will not be needed.
"As a nation we are facing this classic pandemic dilemma, " he said, "where we need to keep the Covid levels down whilst also restoring public services and recovering the economy.
"But perhaps we have to be a bit more patient and get the basics right - test and trace, vaccination programme, border controls - beforehand, as well as looking at the evidence on an ongoing basis."
He also suggested that the vaccine programme should target "poorer areas", especially those where a large percentage of people cannot work from home.
"Generally poorer areas where infections are higher", he said, "we have evidence to suggest that in these areas people weren't able to work from home.
"We need a specific policy to protect these communities that are affected more, and act faster, as restrictions are lifted.
"That's why we need the pace of the vaccination programme to match with the priorities and the needs in each of the communities and not just a one-size-fits-all approach.
"These are areas where people couldn’t or weren’t able to work from home, generally poorer areas where the infections are higher."
He concluded: "It [lifting lockdown restrictions] very much depends on what also happens with the virus and how we all play our part.
"I think we can be reasonably confident, if we are careful lifting lockdown and putting mitigation measures in place, particularly areas where it’s been more affected in the past, we can begin to move forward."