What do experts and health professionals think about the current COVID-19 situation and is the UK entering a third wave?
First published in June 2021.
What the experts say.
- Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Leeds:
“I would be very worried about going ahead with plans to unlock in June. The government has said that it intends the roadmap to be a one way process, and for this reason we are supposed to follow data, not dates, and four tests serve as safeguards to ensure progress is cautious enough not to require backwards steps. The fourth of these tests is that a new variant ought not to provide cause for concern that would change the strategy. It is abundantly clear that this test has not been met at present.
“The variant first detected in India [the Delta variant] entered the UK due to a porous, ineffectual border policy, and the same policy now means we are at risk of exporting it. Cases continue to rise exponentially and it seems spread has not been curtailed within certain hotspots. Also, hospitalisations are rising, with a similar lag time to what we’ve seen too many times before.
“Whilst vaccines have proven highly effective in protecting groups that have received both doses, it is the case that a significant proportion of adults along with children remain susceptible. Whilst we might expect this part of the population to be more resilient, if enough of the younger population become infected there will be some individuals who end up with serious COVID or with long COVID, plus not all vulnerable people have had a vaccine yet. The now dominant variant is highly transmissible, and has the potential to cause enough cases such that hospitalisation again puts tremendous pressure on the NHS.
“I would urge the government to at the very least pause, but ideally review present restrictions in order to put things on line with the vaccination schedule, as was done in Israel. At the very least I would wait until the schools break for summer, and in no way would I recommend that masks, distancing and numbers be changed for indoor mixing.
“We are facing a critical test, we mustn’t make the same mistakes as 2020. The vaccines are the solution for richer countries like the UK, but we mustn’t let impatience cause unnecessary harm along that road.”
PM Boris Johnson. | Number 10
- Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham:
“There’s a sizeable proportion of our population who aren’t fully vaccinated, and many of these people will be susceptible to infection. Therefore, as we lift restrictions we may well see a continued rise in infections until vaccine roll-out has reached these people.
“But a rise in infections is not in itself bad news. Provided the vaccines continue to protect the vast majority of vulnerable people, cases of severe disease and death should be kept low. That’s the key indicator here, which is why we need to keep a close eye on it.”
The Delta variant has been growing exponentially since early April.
- Professor Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research, Clinical Operational Research Unit, University College London and a Member of Independent SAGE:
“I am getting sick of the constant attempts to explain away any bad news. I get the desire to be optimistic (honestly) but minimising delays action and ultimately makes things worse.
“Exponential growth is a red flag. The Delta variant has been growing exponentially since early April. We might have been able to limit its spread then, but it was ‘no firm evidence’ and it kept growing.
“Instead we now have evidence that Delta is (a lot) more transmissible, partially vaccine resistant and more severe. It is now 80% of our cases. The genie is out of the bottle.
“Any delays to the roadmap or a bad new surge are entirely on the government. They should be the target of our anger. Not me, or any of other people who have been warning about this for weeks – which, by the way, includes SAGE several times.
“We could limit the spread by vaccinating as fast as humanly possible. But we will be seeding other countries much less protected by the vaccine with the Delta variant and that is a tragedy.
“Every technical report seems to bring worse news. Added to increased transmissibility and some vaccine escape, we now have evidence that your chance of being hospitalised might be twice as high with the Delta variant than with the Alpha variant. This makes it harder for vaccines to weaken the link between cases and hospitalisations.
“The other new thing (in the latest PHE report) is data on outbreak settings, and it is clear that schools are a major source of transmission and that outbreaks in primary and secondary schools have been growing a lot week on week.”
- Professor Stephen Reicher, Professor of Psychology, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, member of the SAGE subcommittee advising on behavioural science:
“What sort of sign does he want? The Thames turned to blood? A plague of frogs? Writing on the wall that spells out ‘we are all doomed if you don’t stop your dithering’? But seriously, what sort of sign does he want?
“Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, responds to the evidence by saying that ‘it remains vital that we all continue to exercise as much caution as possible’. Does ‘all’ include or exclude the UK Government?”
▫ PMP News reporting.
[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 3 June 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a reception for paramedics and ambulance workers in the garden of 10 Downing Street. | 2 June 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)