Dr Jenny Harries said the new lockdown implemented in Leicester after a local hike in the number of coronavirus infections, is a “very good lesson” for the rest of the country. She did not refuse the possibility of a new wave of Covid-19 cases in the UK – or even a second peak.
However, she insisted localised outbreaks would be acted upon to prevent further spread.
Dr Harries addressed news outlets at a Downing Street briefing on Thursday.
It was first Covid-19 briefing from Number 10 since daily press conferences came to a halt over a week ago.
Asked about the effect of students’ return to the classrooms in September, she and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson denied that Leicester’s spike in coronavirus infections had been caused to some pupils already returning to school last month.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Jenny Harries
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.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
Mr Williamson, who said mandatory attendance will be implemented at the beginning of the new academic cycle, added that shutting down Leicester “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.”
Pupils from some years were allowed to return to school on June 1.
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The vital importance of social distancing
For most, it was the first time going back to the classrooms as schools shut in March to all students except children of key workers and those in vulnerable households.
Dr Harries was questioned about the possibility of implementing a shutting down schools again, should there be a second peak of Covid-19 cases.
Dr Harries 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.
Pupils from some years were allowed to return to school on June 1
“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.”
“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 certify that children going back to school would pose no additional risk, 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.”