Compulsory masks in schools could be ditched within days under plans being considered by ministers. According to one member of the Government, it will definitely happen before January 26th, the day earmarked for the scrapping of most ‘Plan B’ restrictions. Today’s Sunhas more.
Falling Covid rates mean face coverings in schools could be scrapped before Plan B restrictions are lifted – which is expected on January 26th.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is desperate to free youngsters from having to cover up all day long in classrooms.
One Government insider said: “Masks in schools could theoretically come off sooner than January 26th – if we start seeing really good numbers.
“They are not not linked to Plan B, so it could happen sooner than lifting Plan B. It’s not going to be any slower.”
Compulsory face masks in classrooms were imposed at the beginning of term amid fear Omicron could overwhelm the NHS. But the Government has admitted the evidence for using masks in schools to reduce Covid spread is “not conclusive”.
And new stats reveal Covid infection rates have dropped below 100,000 a day in the UK for the first time in over three weeks. Stats whizz Sir David Spiegelhalter yesterday said that Covid cases have now peaked.
Forcing pupils to wear facemasks in the classroom is dystopian and critics should not be smeared as Covid-deniers, children’s author Julia Donaldson has said. The Times has the story.
The creator of The Gruffalo said that she feared the use of face coverings in schools was becoming normalised and that children’s education should not be “sacrificed” to protect the NHS.
Donaldson, 73, has written around 200 books, many of which have been adapted for television and stage. The Gruffalo has sold more than 13 million copies and been translated into more than 100 languages.
The former secondary school English teacher and former children’s laureate said: “Even if the current proposals are only for three weeks, this could be repeated and become something considered normal whenever there is infection, whereas in fact it should not be considered normal, it is alien – even dystopian.
“Children are children for such a short time, I don’t think they should be sacrificed like this.”
“They’re seen as a gesture that isn’t costing the government any money and as something that is not doing any harm. Because of the climate of fear, people have readily accepted something I regard as unacceptable, and that I fear may now be seen as a normal part of life.”
She told the Times that it was vital for teachers to be able to read pupils’ facial expressions during lessons and that many people were too scared to speak out against face masks in case of a social media backlash.
“There is too much polarity. It’s unfortunate that the start of Covid coincided with the US election,” she said. “People were equating any arguments against lockdown or masks with being a Republican or Trumpian.”
Donaldson, who has been left with a long-term Covid symptom called parosmia, which makes smells seem overpowering and food taste disgusting, said: “I’m very pro-vaccination. I’ve been triple-jabbed. I’ve had Covid. I’m not a denier.
“You don’t have to be right-wing [to oppose masks in schools]. I know a lot of people who are passionately anti-lockdown because they’re very sympathetic to the plight of lonely and vulnerable people or those with mental illness.”
The article notes that “a study used to justify the introduction of masks in English schools implied they had at best a marginal effect” and quotes the pro-lockdown scientist Dr Simon Clarke saying: “As the report points out, face coverings can become contaminated quickly, so repeated putting them on and taking them off, and touching them, could present an opportunity for viral transmission. Expecting children to wear them properly all day and to keep them clean is somewhat optimistic. An unwashed face covering worn daily will quickly become akin to wearing a dirty handkerchief across your face.”
When even the Times and lockdown fanatics are speaking out against an intervention, you know there’s something in the air.
Despite widespread reports that masks are to be required in classrooms as pupils return to schools across the country today, the updated Government guidance shows that this is only a recommendation, not a requirement. Here is the relevant section (emphasis mine).
Where pupils in Year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on August 31st 2021) and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by pupils, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas. This is a temporary measure.
From January 4th, we also recommend that in those schools where pupils in Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn in classrooms. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons. This will also be a temporary measure. …
We would not ordinarily expect teachers to wear a face covering in the classroom if they are at the front of the class, to support education delivery, although settings should be sensitive to the needs of individual teachers. …
Face coverings do not need to be worn when outdoors.
Schools, as employers, have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 which includes making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. They also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils, to support them to access education successfully. No pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.
It should be noted that this is guidance for schools rather than pupils, so a school might decide to follow the Government recommendation by requiring its pupils to wear face masks. However, they should still not deny education to pupils if they do not wear one. The usual exemptions also apply, including where wearing a mask causes “severe distress” and “to avoid the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others” (and let’s face it, how can covering your mouth and nose for most of the day with an item that obstructs breathing, gathers germs, contains harmful levels of toxic substances, and prevents normal human interaction not put you at risk of harm?).
Government coronavirus guidance can be found here.
If readers have any stories of pupils being penalised for not wearing a mask you can email us here.
Masks are back for schoolchildren in Year 7 and above, who from the start of term will be required to wear them throughout the day including in classrooms. The Telegraphhas the story.
Secondary school pupils will be asked to wear face masks in classrooms again as ministers draw up contingency plans to keep schools open amid fears of widespread teacher absences.
The measure will apply to students across the country in Year 7 and above, with the Government issuing new guidance just 48 hours before millions of pupils are due to start returning after the Christmas holidays.
It brings England in line with Wales and Scotland, with mask guidance already in force for staff and pupils when walking through corridors and communal areas.
Defending the decision to reimpose masks in classrooms for the first time since May last year, Nadhim Zahawi said it was designed to help “maximise the number of children in school” and would remain only as long as needed.
Writing for the Telegraph, the Education Secretary said face-to-face teaching would be the “expected norm” heading into the new term, and confirmed that all exams in January would “go ahead as planned”.
“The Prime Minister could not be clearer: education is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power as a government to minimise the disruption to schools,” he said.
However, the Telegraph can also disclose that officials in the Department for Education (DfE) have begun discussing proposals that could see heads asked to prioritise primary, GCSE and A-level pupils for face-to-face teaching should schools be hit by widespread staff absences, with others taught remotely.
Other potential guidance that could be issued in a worst-case scenario includes grouping multiple classes together in sports and assembly halls. The department is also looking at “flexible staff models” should absences hit 10%, 15% or 25%, but insiders say schools are likely to “tip over” at 30%.
The controversial move comes despite the two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) for the use of masks against COVID-19 finding no robust evidence of benefit. The Danish Danmask-19 study found no statistically significant reduction in COVID-19 incidence from the use of surgical masks (the study didn’t look at the even less effective cloth masks that are common among school pupils). The Bangladesh mask study also found no benefit from cloth masks and the reported benefit from surgical masks was just 11%, with a 95% confidence interval that included zero (meaning we can’t even be 95% sure there was any benefit at all). The mask intervention in Bangladesh was also accompanied by an awareness raising campaign, among other issues that confounded the findings.
Masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 largely because SARS-CoV-2 is an airborne virus and cloth and surgical masks do not prevent people breathing, or filter particles small enough to prevent sufficient virus particles passing in and out.
But why let scientific evidence get in the way of a political gesture and a sop to the unions?
19 months on from the beginning of the pandemic and schools in England are still far from normal. Some have switched to remote learning ahead of the October half-term due to concerns about increasing ‘cases’ and now, 17 local authorities are insisting that stricter measures should be (re)introduced, affecting 1,098,349 pupils at 3,250 schools. The Telegraphhas the story.
Councils across the country have reintroduced face masks, bubbles and staggered break times and stepped up self-isolation rules for youngsters. …
Headteachers have been told by ministers that many of the restrictions in place in the last academic year are no longer necessary. However, as cases rise in schools, local public health teams are increasingly encouraging schools to ramp up their measures. …
Nine Maidens Academy, in Cornwall, moved to remote learning at the start of the week, while Admiral Lord Nelson School in Portsmouth closed its doors on Thursday owing to a “rapid” rise in cases.
A dozen councils are advising secondary pupils in their area to wear masks in communal areas at school, and several have introduced more stringent self-isolation rules for children.
This week, Walsall Council advised primary schools to reintroduce bubbles and staggered lunch breaks, and moved all ‘non-essential’ events online. Windsor Council has also told schools to avoid mixing classes or year groups and to cancel assemblies.
Union leaders have repeatedly called for more restrictions in schools, with Kevin Courtney, the Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, claiming the Government’s failure to introduce stricter rules such as face masks is “irresponsible”.
The National Association of Headteachers has urged ministers to bring back rules that would see healthy children kept at home if a sibling tests positive.
But ministers have been warned that parents are “despairing” and their patience with the Government has “worn out”.
Molly Kingsley, a Co-Founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “Children have been disproportionately burdened by these pandemic restrictions for too long. Now adults are back to normal and the Government ought to be worried about the detrimental impact this is having on children. Parents are really despairing about this.”
Government guidelines say children should only self-isolate if they are showing symptoms or have a positive PCR test result. But councils including Calderdale, Cheshire East and Suffolk have brought back self-isolation rules for children if a sibling or other member of their household has tested positive.
Meanwhile, other councils say children need to self-isolate for three to five days if a family member has Covid, then take a PCR test and only return to school if it is negative.
Students spilling out of one of the large secondary schools in Newcastle are all wearing masks again. Evidently, that school at least has revived its requirement for masking, on account of rising ‘case’ numbers among teenagers in the city.
And worse: the BBC reported that on September 30th as many as 2.5% of those enrolled at English state schools were exiled from school altogether for reasons to do with Covid.
The ease with which schools are reverting to covering children’s faces and excluding those who ‘test positive for Covid’ (an entirely unscientific description) makes one wonder whether there is an affinity between our institutions of education and the masking and distancing of the Covid era.
Covid is not responsible for everything that it has exacerbated. Measures taken by schools against it have certainly diminished the personal and palpable content of children’s lives – people in masks might as well be anyone, and nothing on a screen offers much of sensory stimulation. But is neglect of the personal and palpable in fact a general principle of our schools? Is this what explains their complacent revival of masked and remote learning?
* * *
After one-and-a-half years of almost no school at all, our little boy with autism is now attending for three days in the week. We have two reasons for his reduced take-up.
First, the support teacher with whom Joseph has a good relationship, who knows him well and can communicate with him and cares about him, works at the school for three days every week, the same three days on which we are choosing to send him in.
Second, Joseph can only really learn from what is in the world, to be touched and smelt and tasted and heard and seen; the understanding that he gains during the two days in the week on which he accompanies me to the supermarket and the swimming pool, and makes shopping lists and kneads bread and goes to the door to pick up the mail, is not achieved by the most inventive of institutional strategies.
But in the meeting at Joseph’s school at which the new arrangement for his attendance was discussed, it was evident that the real justifications for it were not admissible.
Schools cannot allow that one teacher might be more appropriate than another – the ‘role’ is all, and anyone should be able to play it. And schools cannot accept that there is a possibility for involvement in the world that none of their representations of it and none of their simulations of it can ever hope to match for enlivenment of body and mind.
Last year, during the few weeks that Joseph could be at school, we kept him at home on days when his support teacher was unable to be there. It was made clear at the meeting that this personal arrangement would no longer be encouraged, that a new appointment was about to be made of a teacher trained in the support of children with special needs who would shadow Joseph’s teacher and be ready to step in for her in the event of absence.
And when I attempted to explain how quickly and well Joseph learns from moving about with purpose in the world, I was asked whether it would be possible for me to take Joseph to a museum or a gallery during our home-schooling days, as that would provide excellent documentary evidence that ‘off-site’ learning really was taking place.
So little do our schools place any value on the personal that a total stranger, with no understanding of Joseph’s idiosyncrasies and with no care for him at all, is judged as the equivalent of a woman who has known and liked him for three years.
And so little do our schools place any value on the palpable that the best substitute that they can find for themselves is another institution in which the experiences available are plucked from life and suspended in space and time for contemplation at a distance.
Small wonder that the masks are taken up so very easily when teaching and learning are not supposed to be personal anyway, and small wonder that everything switches to remote so very smoothly when the museum and the gallery are what count as the optimal ‘off-site’ learning environment.
* * *
But children with autism are a special case, we might think; their requirement for personal attention and palpable experience is part of their specific disability.
Is this true? Or is the intolerance of anonymity and of abstraction that defines autism in fact manifest in many who manage to pass muster at school and elsewhere?
Almost pass muster, at any rate. The NHS website includes descriptions of two conditions that are reported to be on the rise among young people in the U.K.: ‘depersonalisation’ and ‘derealisation’, which are disorders comprised of just that craving for the personal and the palpable that characterises those with a diagnosis of autism.
‘Depersonalisation’ and ‘derealisation’ are judged as ‘mental health’ issues, often subject to pharmaceutical treatments. But are they really ‘mental health’ issues, or are they entirely human responses of anxiety and disaffection in the face of ever-increasing anonymity and abstraction?
If they are such human responses, then schools’ active disregard for the personal and palpable is contributing significantly to their concerning increase, which increase must surely be partly responsible for the growing number of children being referred for diagnoses of autism.
The question arises, then, as to whether our schools are at least contributing to driving our children onto the ‘spectrum’?
It is a drastic allegation. But then, these are drastic times. And our children are coping with a drastic diminution of what may reasonably be regarded as the fundamentals of human life: the personal and the palpable, other people and the world.
* * *
It is an established philosophical theme: that human beings are irreducibly situated; that there is no baseline human life which is then overlain with circumstantial content; that human life is circumstanced all the way down.
Martin Heidegger summarized this view by defining human being as “Dasein” and “Mitsein” – being-there and being-with. What makes human life human, for Heidegger, is the dual fact of that life being always in a world with which our bodies are woven and always with others with whom our understanding is given and built up through interaction.
“Dasein” and “Mitsein” are abstract terms, as are ‘being-there’ and ‘being-with’. But what Heidegger intended to communicate with them was not so much that human life is in a world with others, but that our lives are in this world with these others. The claim is an existential one and not merely philosophical. Our human lives are personal, Heidegger meant. And our human world is palpable.
If Heidegger was right, then any erosion of the personal and the palpable is an erosion, not of the variety of life nor of the joy of life but of the humanness of life. For, to be human is to be there in a world that can be touched and tasted; and to be human is to be with people we know and understand and love.
Those who are not appalled at schools’ masking and distancing of children may assume that we can be with masked others and there in a remote world. Against this assumption, we can only appeal that it is less isolating even to be alone than it is to be surrounded by a sea of masked faces, and less awful even to be in a strange place than it is to be screened off and at a distance.
In favour of this appeal, we can point to the rise in diagnoses of ‘depersonalisation’ and ‘derealisation’ in our young people, together with the rise in their medication – prescriptions for anti-depressant medicines for those under 17 hit an all-time high during 2020, up 40% from five years before.
* * *
When Dickens’s Paul Dombey – pale and slight and destined to an early grave – first arrives at the boarding school to which his misguided father has sent him, he is left waiting in the study for someone to show him to his quarters. Weary and forlorn, with an aching void in his little heart, Paul is described as feeling as if he had taken life unfurnished and the upholsterer were never coming.
It is an affecting scene, of abandonment to a world without familiar sights and sounds and smells, peopled with strangers whose faces are not known.
I think that children with autism often feel like little Paul (who, as it happens, does not socialise normally with other children and is described by other characters as ‘old fashioned’). They feel as if life is bereft of what is really meaningful: of daily routines that are not to be departed from and that are entered into by all around; of familiar enduring objects; and of the faces of those whom they understand and who understand them. It is why they are drawn to small corners, why they clamber to sit behind you on your chair so as to be cushioned tightly between a warm person and a supporting world – one of Joseph’s very first words was ‘cozy’.
The responsibility of those of us who care for children with autism is to try to make them more cozy: to gather around them as much of meaning as we can; to furnish them with personal and palpable content; to establish routines and interact with objects and befriend people so as to thicken their being-there and being-with – to be the upholsterers of their lives.
But all children need what children with autism demand. All children feel ‘depersonalised’ when there are not people around them who really care, and all children feel ‘derealised’ when the world does not stimulate their senses. All children wish that the upholsterer would come.
Instead, what are we doing? We are doing the very opposite, stripping our children’s lives of what scanty furnishings remain to them. What people they have around, we are masking. What world there is left to touch and taste and smell, we are screening off. We are turning their young hearts into aching voids, with all outside so cold, and bare, and strange.
There is a medical experiment currently unfolding in schools, on account of which we ought to feel grave concern.
But there is an existential experiment unfolding there too, an experiment in removing the human content from the youngest human lives, as if they had taken childhood unfurnished and have no chance of cozy at all.
Dr. Sinead Murphy is an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University.
A British man travelling back to England from France on Eurostar on Thursday was surrounded by armed French police and left stranded in Lille after being reported by the service’s manager for wearing the “wrong type of mask”. MailOnlinehas the story.
Eurostar requires all passengers to wear a mask onboard but a spokesman today said that there were no rules specifying what kind of masks must be worn.
Other passengers on the service said that the female manager of the train took a dislike to the man after an exchange of words, and ordered the service to stop so he could be arrested.
“I’ve done nothing wrong and respect all Coronavirus rules – this is absolutely outrageous,” he said, as he was led away in front of other stunned passengers on Thursday afternoon. …
Other passengers then complained about the unscheduled, unannounced stop in Lille that caused a 15 minutes delay.
“Why is Eurostar stopping its trains, and delaying hundreds of passengers, because of a petty dispute over one man’s mask?” said one.
The female Eurostar manager, who remained on the train after the man was taken into custody, confirmed she had reported him for wearing the “wrong type of mask” for preventing the spread of Coronavirus. …
Within minutes of departure [from Paris] the Eurostar manager was involved in a heated argument with the man.
She accused him of not complying with health and safety regulations, and said the black mask he was wearing was not appropriate.
All Eurostar passengers are expected to wear masks at all times, except for when they are eating or drinking.
There was a buffet on the train, and many of the passengers in Coach 13 – where the man was sitting alone by a window in a two-seat row – had removed their masks completely as they had sandwiches and drinks with them.
Despite this, the manager berated the man, and then used a radio to summon another member of staff. …
The businessman… replaced his black mask with a standard blue one provided by another passenger. He apologised, and appeared to have escaped any further action.
But when the train got to Lille it made an unscheduled stop, and three armed officers boarded, while the others waiting on the platform. …
[Another passenger said:] “The Eurostar woman was telling the police what to do, and insisting that the poor guy should be removed, like he was some kind of criminal.
“He was actually being very reasonable, and not swearing or acting in any kind of disruptive way at all – everybody else was on his side, but he was marched off and we didn’t see him again.”
Many local councils are still under the impression that it is not safe for schools to return to normal and are pushing for the return of face masks (which Nadhim Zahawi hasn’t ruled out) and other measures to ‘combat Covid’. If they succed, this will “make a mockery of the Education Secretary’s plans to keep children in the classroom”, says the campaign group UsForThem. The Telegraphhas the story.
Local councils have been accused by parents of employing “militant Lefty” health chiefs who are advising schools to ramp up Covid measures to control the spread of the virus in schools.
Headteachers have been told by ministers that many of the restrictions which were in place last academic year are no longer necessary. However, as cases rise in schools, public health teams have been called in to advise that measures are stepped up.
Devon County Council has said it is now “encouraging” all secondary school pupils to wear face masks in communal areas, while City of Wolverhampton Council is also asking students to do so.
Cumbria County Council’s Director of Public Health has told children to self-isolate if one of their siblings tests positive for the virus. They say pupils should get a PCR test after three to five days and only return to school if they get a negative result.
This contradicts national guidance, which says pupils should be off school only if they test positive for Covid-19 or are showing symptoms.
Meanwhile, Staffordshire County Council has given teachers a list of “recommended controls” that can be used to prevent Covid outbreaks, which includes bringing back bubbles to limit contact between pupils as well as staggered lunch and break times. The council said these were measures that schools “may potentially want to consider on a case-by-case basis”.
Haringey Council in London said “additional temporary preventative measures (such as bubbles)” were being put in place in schools with rising cases. And Peterborough City Council wrote to parents this week to remind them that headteachers have the right to “refuse access to school to protect other pupils and staff from possible infection with Covid” if they believe a pupil has symptoms.
Wigan Council’s Director of Public Health has introduced a “suite of measures” after a rise in cases at a local school, including face masks in the classroom and asking siblings of children who test positive to isolate.
Ministers have been urged to “rein in” local public health directors and ensure the children’s education is prioritised.
Molly Kingsley, Co-Founder of the parent campaign group UsForThem, said: “Public health teams appear to be too quick to impose disproportionate restrictions on children’s education and lives again. The Department for Education needs to crack down on councils and schools who are overreaching.
“It is really depressing that we are barely one month into term and we are already seeing these restrictions creep back into schools. This will probably get worse and worse and will make a mockery of the Education Secretary’s plans to keep children in the classroom”.
Depending on how your lives have been affected by all the restrictions, July 2020 either feels like a lifetime ago or not. For Dr. Alan Black it is probably the former. This is because it took until June of this year for him to get an answer to a freedom of information request he submitted to the Department for Transport he submitted 11 months earlier. And no, it wasn’t because they were working from home…
The request? “Please can you provide me with the name and findings of the peer-reviewed study which led to the imposition of mandatory face coverings on public transport.”
The response? You guessed it, a refusal to comply. Worse still, when the Department finally did reply – having been forced to after Dr. Black complained to the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) – it admitted that it hadn’t bothered to undertake a study of the likely effect of mandatory masks on public transport when the measure was introduced on June 15th, 2020, and it still hasn’t bothered to this day.
The main issue here is not that the Government didn’t carry out any sort of cost-benefit analysis before imposing any of its restrictions – that’s not exactly newsworthy. The issue is the DfT’s heel-dragging. Dr. Black’s initial request was rejected by the Department for being “vexatious”. Well, I am not sure I can see anything vexatious about such a request. Neither did Dr. Black, which is why he persevered. He appealed the decision and asked for an internal review – and when that wasn’t successful he complained to the ICO.
Following the ICO’s intervention, the DfT claimed it didn’t respond to the request at the time because doing so would have caused “a disproportionate level of disruption” to the Department. That’s pretty weak. How about the disruption caused by issuing un-evidenced mask mandates on public transport?
The DfT’s response epitomises the Government’s reluctance to justify any of its Covid restrictions with hard evidence. Nowadays, anyone submitting an FOI request to a Government department not only has to wade through a forest of red tape, but as Dr. Black’s experience shows, Whitehall will use every trick in the book to conceal the fact that little or no thought went into the Government’s knee-jerk approach to managing the pandemic.
Just days after it led the public into believing that plans for vaccine passports were off the table, the Government has announced that they will be introduced – along with mask mandates and potentially another full lockdown – if booster jabs and vaccines for healthy teenagers fail to keep Covid infections down this winter. Laying out its new plans, the Government said it is “committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS”. MailOnlinehas the story.
Fronting a press conference alongside Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the Prime Minister insisted that the U.K. was “incomparably” better placed to deal with the disease this year.
He said he hoped the situation could be kept stable with more jabs and the public behaving sensibly – although ministers have made clear another lockdown cannot be completely ruled out.
Professor Whitty gave a more downbeat assessment saying that infections were “high” relative to last year, and the NHS was under “extreme pressure” even though vaccines were helping significantly.
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick seemed to send a thinly-veiled message to Mr. Johnson by saying that when it comes to measures to stem cases the lesson was “you have to go earlier than you want to, you have to go harder than you want to”. …
Earlier, Sajid Javid was heckled by Tories admitting that ministers can only give Britons the “best possible chance” of avoiding brutal curbs.
In a statement to MPs, he stressed that vaccines can help “build defences’ against the disease, with boosters for the over-50s and jabs for under-16s starting next week.
But Mr Javid was hit with howls of rage from Conservatives in the Commons as he said the blueprint includes the ‘Plan B’ of making masks compulsory “in certain settings”, more working from home and social distancing if the NHS is under threat.
Vaccine passports will be kept “in reserve” and could be introduced in England with a week’s notice, even though they will not go ahead from next month as originally intended. …
The Winter Plan document lays out the details of ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. But although it does not go into detail about other contingencies, it states that further steps cannot be ruled out.
“While the Government expects that, with strong engagement from the public and businesses, these contingency measures should be sufficient to reverse a resurgence in autumn or winter, the nature of the virus means it is not possible to give guarantees,” the document says.
“The Government remains committed to taking whatever action is necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed but more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort.”