AS THE number of Covid infections across the UK, Scotland, and Shetland, soars amidst steps to “re-open the nation” and ease remaining restrictions, a local GP is urging people to stick to mask wearing.
Hillswick GP Dr Susan Bowie said wearing masks at this crucial stage of the pandemic was more important than ever before because of the high infection rate and the risks the virus continue to pose.
She said the so called ‘freedom day’ – when all restrictions are removed in England on 19 July – was anything but for the most vulnerable in society.
Dr Bowie expressed the hope that Scotland would be set on a more cautious path out of the pandemic when first minister Nicola Sturgeon updates parliament this afternoon (Tuesday).
Sturgeon previously said that when major restrictions are eased in Scotland face coverings will likely still be required on public transport and in shops.
Health experts have warned of as many as 100,000 Covid cases per day in the UK by late summer, leading to thousands of hospital admissions and, potentially, to between 100 and 200 deaths per day.
And there is evidence that every sixth person infected with the virus might end up with what is now known as long Covid, a long lasting and debilitating fatigue syndrome likely to affect hundred of thousands.
Scotland has seen between 2,000 and 4,000 daily cases over recent weeks, and in Shetland eleven new cases have been recorded since Friday.
There was no update with details on these latest local cases on Monday as office staff at NHS Shetland were on a public holiday.
Dr Bowie said: “The most important message is: we need people to continue to wear masks when they are in close proximity to other people whether they are vaccinated or not.
“You are protecting other people when wearing a mask in case you got a mild and asymptomatic infection that you don’t know about. And wear a proper, well fitting mask, and if it is a cloth mask make sure it is a three-layered mask with a membrane in the middle.”
And referring to this afternoon’s pandemic update in the Scottish parliament, she added: “I am really hoping that the Scottish Government will say: ‘carry on with mask wearing’.”
Her Hillswick surgery has just put in an order for the higher quality FFP3 masks in preparation of more people attending her clinics who potentially could be infected by the virus as a precautionary measure to better protect staff and patients.
Bowie said the ‘if not now then when’ attitude to opening up did not make any sense clinically as it would result in the health service being put under additional and unnecessary stress.
“It is not freedom day for the vulnerable if people are not required to wear masks anymore. If everything opens up how can people who are vulnerable clinically go to anything, because they can’t depend of people wearing masks,” she said.
“If you look at the surveys you realise that 70 per cent of the UK population want masks to continue, yet it looks as though we are throwing caution to the wind which is so dangerous.”
She added that the herd immunity approach which seems to have become the guiding principle of Covid relaxations, at least in England, will not work unless children are being vaccinated.
“If you are not immunising children you can’t get herd immunity because children make up 20 per cent of the population and you will not get to herd immunity, and also if you have had Covid the level of immunity you get from that is probably less than you get from vaccination,” she said.
Dr Bowie is certainly not the only one who is deeply concerned about the potential consequences of easing Covid restrictions too quickly while a large proportion of the mainly younger population has not been fully vaccinated.
Only last week a group of scientists warned the UK government against the population immunity approach in a letter to the Lancet.
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