The end is nigh – or is it?

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Immunisation is the key

The establishment of a vaccination centre in Rye, whilst later than might have been hoped for, is nevertheless welcome and, as reported by Anthony Kimber elsewhere in this issue, a benefit both to Rye residents and also to the national drive to offer vaccinations to all those over 18 by July 19.

The less good news for many this week is of course the announcement that the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ due on June 21 has now been postponed until July 19 “at the latest”. So how did the prime minister arrive at this decision and was it really necessary?

Many of the scientific community have been forecasting doom, gloom and destruction should we dare to so much as set foot outside our homes for many months to come. At the No. 10 press conference on Monday the Pinky and Perky duo of Witty and Valance, while adopting a much less extreme position, enthusiastically produced figures showing the potential exponential growth of infections if we were allowed to remove our masks (which have already been declared practically useless unless they are of medical grade, or we wear three of them at once) or, heaven forbid, actually be allowed to stand and order a drink at the bar of our local.

Now, I am not a Covid-19 denier, far from it, I have endeavoured to follow the rules and advice from government since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do so. However, I do feel that the figures produced by Sage (and one cannot help feeling that at many stages during the pandemic, that mnemonic has been something of a misnomer) need some more examination.

We were told that there are, as at Monday, June 14, some 7,000 new infections reported daily, whereas around a week earlier there had been only a little over half that number reported. Infections were doubling, therefore, every week, so next Monday we should expect to see in excess of 14,000 new cases, the Monday after 28,000 and so on.

Hospital admissions with the virus, however, have only risen from around 123 to 184 over the same period and deaths from 5 down to just 2 (although this latter figure will probably increase once all records are complete. All figures are taken from the government’s website). There is, therefore, a disconnect now between simple infection and serious illness and this both government and scientists agree on.

The reason behind the restrictions extension, therefore, is the predicted exponential growth of infections which would produce more of the serious cases and therefore overwhelm the NHS.

However, there is a problem with this argument and that is simply that continued exponential growth is unlikely, thanks to the very significant success of the vaccine rollout and we must also bear in mind that the rate of infection is at a very low level. For example, on January 4 there were 76,000 new cases, 4,000 admitted to hospital and 840 who died (daily deaths subsequently maxed out at over 1,200).

In January, vaccinations were only just being planned so that, other than those who had already caught and recovered from Covid-19, there was no immunity among the general population. Today some 42 million have had the first dose and over 30 million a second dose – 80% and 57% respectively of the adult population – and these figures are significantly increasing each day.

It can, I believe, now reasonably be concluded that the virus, even in the medium term, has nowhere to go. A continued exponential increase is simply not possible and as it is generally accepted that Covid-19, in one variation or another, is with us for good, it is entirely possible that the infection figures will never drop a great deal lower than they are now, although according to government statistics there did seem to be a marginal decrease showing at the beginning of this week. We should also bear in mind that the current infection rate is well below that of seasonal flu and, out of a population of 67 million, is a remarkably small figure.

So was Boris right to extend restrictions? Politically, the answer must probably be yes. He has declared the relaxation of restrictions to be “irreversible” and therefore he must show that he is acting in accordance with the advice given at all times. If nothing else, he does then have someone else to blame. In practical terms, though, there seems little necessity for any extension. Would we see a spike in infections if ‘normal’ had returned on June 21? Almost certainly, yes. And this will probably happen on July 19, but this will be a small spike and not a sign of the need for a return of lockdown.

Untold damage has been done to the national economy, businesses large and small as well as to individuals. However a recent YouGov poll suggested that, despite vociferous anti-lockdown protests, 70% agreed with extending restrictions. The fear of this virus has been pushed at us unremittingly for the last 18 months and it is not surprising that so many are now reluctant to risk ‘normality’ once more. But it is now time to realise that as Franklin D Roosevelt said following the Great Depression in the US, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself”. I have little doubt that that is as true today as it was in 1933.

Image Credits: Dreamstime .

2 COMMENTS

  1. Really interesting article, John. Thanks. I guess the bottom line is that there are so many competing permutations of social, political and economic risk, it’s almost impossible to arrive at a definitive answer to all the interesting questions you’ve posed. Faith in science and politics certainly bears upon public confidence in the rules, and whilst debate’s really valuable, as laymen, I think sometimes we ought to have a little more deference and respect for the ‘Pinkies and Perkies’. It’s not the populist quack nostrums of the Trumps, Bolsinaros and their ilk that are getting us through this, after-all. (I’m not equating your perspective with theirs, I hasten to add!)

    I think one of the causes of the understandable disappointment and discontent re the delay is the management of the message. Johnson’s default instinct is for buoyant, bumptious optimism. He wants to stand on the metaphorical balcony and strew the good news upon the heads of the grateful people. It’s not always that simple, sadly. And if you prematurely promise ‘bright, sunlit uplands’, you have a job on your hands when the forecast changes.

    I suppose I perceive the logic for delay primarily as a means of securing the progress in which we’ve all invested. This delay has been initiated by the arrival of the ‘Indian’ or Delta Variant, and, I assume, the potential for further mutations whilst the virus is still being incubated in the unvaccinated elements of the population. Vaccination is bringing down the case numbers, but, soberingly, so is the fact that the most vulnerable in our society have already succumbed… Additionally, I think the “disconnect” between cases and hospitalisations is due to the currant afflictions being within the younger, unvaccinated (and less vulnerable?) cohort. Is that right?? Figures are always behind the curve, so I don’t fully understand how reliable or otherwise it is to extrapolate forward. I think, therefore, caution isn’t unwise. Every week buys us more time to vaccinate, and the more we can sustain faith in the simple measures the majority have been following, the better.

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