Many experts believe that the government’s plan to relax Covid-19 rules at Christmas is likely to trigger a third wave, Dr Joe Pajak writes.
First published in December 2020.
Yesterday we reflected on some key pieces of relevant information, which the government should be considering as it reviews plans for Christmas. These will be formally reviewed on Wednesday 16 December. Those plans were around the four governments of the UK’s common approach between 23-27 December.
Christmas or not Christmas, that is the question
Two highly regarded groups of scientists have already published details regarding their assessment of the current situation. The UK’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), presented a consensus statement on Covid-19 to SAGE in November, which was published on 11 December 2020. This indicated that government scientists considered a period of 21 days was not long enough to fully evaluate the impact of national restrictions on the spread of the Covid-19 virus. While, the Independent SAGE group published its own Three-point plan to keep families and communities safe, on 11 December 2020.
Many other experts are now voicing their belief that the government’s plan to relax Covid-19 rules at Christmas is likely to trigger a third wave. Notable among these is the warning from NHS Providers’ CEO Chris Hopson that a further relaxation of restrictions over Christmas could trigger another wave of coronavirus infections.
NHS Providers, which represents health trusts in England, has told the prime minister in a letter to exercise ‘extreme caution’ when making the decision to move any areas into a lower Covid-19 tier.
Chris Hopson told Sky News that “health workers are really worried.
“Due to a surge in Covid-19 patients and a rise in infection rates, hospitals are facing a difficult period.
“Any extra social contact equals virus spread. We all want to get together, but we need to ensure we look at the evidence. Although we have made some good progress... the reality is the progress we’ve made as a whole is at the lowest end of expectations.
“We’ve got to keep going with these tough restrictions over winter... we cannot take risks.”
As Independent SAGE noted, “the responsibility of the government is to explain clearly the risks involved in different courses of action and to provide the support necessary for people to make the choices that will best protect themselves, their families, and their community.” Have government ministers done enough in this respect? Many believe that more needs to be done to prevent further spread of the virus.
Hey! Ministers! Leave us kids alone!
Other important observations this weekend have come from school leaders. These will also provide the government with more food for thought regarding the perilous situation, and its original intention to relax restrictions over the core Christmas period.
The Guardian, for example, reports that “Headteachers are calling for the government to allow secondary schools to move all teaching online for pupils undergoing mass coronavirus testing in London, Kent and Essex.”
Also in the Guardian is the reports that the National Association of Headteachers (NAHT) and the Association of College Leaders “have written a joint letter to education minister Gavin Williamson, urging him to shut the doors of secondary schools and colleges whose pupils are being tested this week and to roll out the mass testing of students to other high infection areas in England.”
Many would agree that the government has not managed the Covid-19 pandemic situation well. The complex and challenging situation that headteachers, schools, and parents are facing adds weight to this view.
To Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, the government’s “relaxation of social mixing rules over Christmas had put schools and parents between a rock and hard place”. He accuses ministers of “pretending to be oblivious to the consequences of their decision.” While one headteacher in Hertfordshire was sent an official letter last week from the schools’ minister, Nick Gibb, warning him that the government was prepared to deploy its new powers under the Coronavirus Act to ensure his secondary school remained open for all pupils until Friday.
Meanwhile, other countries appear to be taking tougher action, given similar concerns about a rise in infections in their own communities. The government will be aware that various news media are now reporting that Germany is to be placed into a full national lockdown over Christmas amid rising coronavirus cases. The action of Angela Merkel’s government appears to be far more robust than our own current plans for Christmas.
Clearly, there’s much food for thought for the UK government in the next few days – aside from the equally concerning Brexit negotiations – in determining the future path for the UK.
Today’s data in focus
Turning to today, Covid-19 data reported at the weekends often appears to show a lag behind what’s actually happening. Notwithstanding this fact, today’s data, again provides a stark picture of the reality.
Today’s data indicates the bleak fact that a further 144 people have lost their lives in the last 24 hours in the UK, while the number of deaths in the last 14 days is at 5,943.
Note: The data for deaths attributed to Covid-19, each following a reported positive test result for Covid-19 within 28 days of their death.
Today’s Government data indicates that there have been 232,081 new cases reported in the past 14 days, around 9% more than the 14-day figures reported a week ago on 6 December.
Today’s trendline chart, and headline UK Covid-19 data, set out an overview of the journey thus far.
UK Covid-19 headline data, reported on 13 December 2020:
- 18,447 further positive tests
- 144 further deaths in the last 24 hours
- 1,686 further hospital admissions (reported as of 09/12)
- 16,531 hospital in-patients in total (reported as of 10/12)
- 1,275 patients on ventilation beds (reported as of 11/12)
318 days after the first case was reported in the UK, 1,849,403 cases have been reported, together with 64,170 deaths. However, these data include only those who have died within 28 days of testing positive; other measures suggest the number of deaths is higher: 73,125 being reported as “the total number of deaths of people whose death certificate mentioned Covid-19 as one of the causes, registered up to Friday, 27 November 2020.”🔷
- Daily summary: Coronavirus in the UK | UK Government
- SPI-M-O: Consensus statement on COVID-19, 25 November 2020 | SAGE
- Rethinking Christmas: A three point plan to keep families and communities safe | Independent SAGE
Dr Joe Pajak, Professional experience applied scientific research and development, then director of a national children’s charity, trustee of a disability charity, and governor of NHS foundation trust hospitals.
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🗳️ Nick Gibb