The current government narratives are based on the value system that loss of health and life is inevitable, and that we can only delay this and not prevent it. None of this is true and we need to call this out.

First published in June 2021.

This from the Telegraph gives us an idea of the new false dichotomies the government is setting up: “six-week window to open up” or “restrictions up to spring” – this is being rationalised by some scientists putting forward the same irrational thinking from March.

The Telegraph

The article reflects a false narrative that our only options are ‘restrict now until 4 weeks’ or ‘be in restrictions until spring’. The key part of this narrative is rejection of ‘Zero COVID’ as this would lead to us being “shut down permanently.”

The Telegraph

It is precisely our rejection of elimination and “living with the virus” that has led us to spawning and importing, not one but two highly transmissible and severe variants, with the second having significant escape against vaccines – leading directly to the situation we are in.

The narratives from scientists that are being used to justify this are the same ones we heard in March 2020. ‘If we restrict too much or too long we go into autumn and have a much larger second wave.’

This creates the same false dichotomy from last year.

The Telegraph

We were told that going hard and aggressively stamping things out would lead to an inevitable second wave – this was what was said repeatedly about China, Vietnam, Taiwan, who got on top of this early on. Did they have a devastating second wave larger than their first? No.

These models ignore the agency we have to change course – and present false dichotomies suggesting our only choices are letting infection spread prior to winter, or during winter? Either way the narrative is spread is inevitable – as are deaths that will occur.

Mathematician James Ward here speaks about “spreading things out” and the “sweet spot” of restrictions for doing this. He speaks about this not changing the number of people in hospital or deaths overall, but just flattening this.

The Telegraph

Why is this acceptable? This is nothing but the same ‘let it spread, but in a controlled way’ narrative that has got us to over 150,000 COVID-19 deaths and 1 million people with Long COVID.

Why is just spreading suffering and death out across time an acceptable objective?

And why is the dichotomy, ‘let it spread in July’, or ‘it will spread over winter, so we’ll need to be in restrictions until spring’? This is frankly ridiculous, but it is the political narrative being built around flawed narratives from scientists to rationalise it.

There are many other options, and a key one is elimination – which is the fastest way to return to near-normal. Yes, it does mean strict border restrictions for longer periods of time, but we need these now anyway, given our strategy being completely reliant on vaccines.

There is also no mention of other measures we could take to reduce the impact on the population – that don’t have to do with restrictions – like just providing more support for isolation, fixing our broken test, trace and isolate system so more people are able to test and isolate.

How about simple mitigations based on a focus on masks and ventilation in schools, where so much of the spread is happening? Why is the debate always framed in terms of freedoms and lockdowns, when there is so much more we could and should be doing?

PM Boris Johnson visiting St Issey School in Wadebridge, Cornwall.

Let’s be clear, the narratives presented here are in some respect ‘let it spread because spread is inevitable’ narratives. Even if it is ‘let it spread in a controlled way’, it is a call back to flawed herd immunity narratives from March. We need to resist these false narratives.

We cannot afford to make the same mistakes we have made before. What worries me even more is the value system these narratives are based on – that loss of health and life is inevitable, and that we can only delay this and not prevent it. None of this is true and we need to call this out.

Putting in measures to contain aerosol transmission and fixing our broken test trace and isolate system, focusing on elimination while we vaccinate will surely reduce the impact on public health, economy and education. Why not aim for that rather than this false dichotomy?

A surge of infection with hospitalisations, Long COVID and virus adaptation isn’t inevitable. And our only options aren’t ‘let it spread now’ or ‘let it spread later’. ‘We need to be in restrictions until spring to control it’ sets up a false narrative too.

Amazingly, we can prevent it spreading and return to near-normal – there is no dichotomy here. We can do it if we pivot to elimination now. We can’t “live with (a) virus” that is constantly adapting to become more transmissible, severe, and escape vaccines.

What if allowing transmission to occur in a partially immune population spawns new variants that escape vaccines even more? Surely, that is the best way to stay in restrictions indefinitely. Not elimination with vaccination, which is the best way to protect our vaccine efficacy.

Our government’s strategy has never been one of pandemic control. It has always been ‘let it spread until the NHS is overwhelmed’, which is the key problem. And there appears to be no shift from this. Also no mention of the devastating impacts of spread even below NHS capacity to the NHS and to public health – with 1 million people already living with Long COVID. And the potential of new variants. Such a strategy will likely spawn – combining high levels of transmission with partial population immunity. Our current strategy isn’t working. Time to change course.

This narrative is even more concerning now that we have safe and effective vaccines. Surely then infections, Long COVID, hospitalisation, and death are even less inevitable. We can protect people with vaccines over time so why expose them to these risks before vaccinating them when we don’t need to.

Considering it acceptable to allow the virus to spread through a population (a call back to “naturally acquired herd immunity”), fully knowing the risk of Long COVID, and mutation, at this point in time when we have vaccines, is beyond reprehensible.

Health Sec. Matt Hancock. | Flickr/Number 10

Presenting this as “restrictions until July” or “restrictions until spring” is deeply ingenuous, and we need to be clear that ultimately this is nothing but the Great Barrington Declaration pseudoscience of “focused protection” and “let it spread”, but couched in seeming caution.

So, if you are saying “let it spread in the summer/autumn” or “let it spread in winter”... How about we do neither?

So, if you are saying “let it spread in the summer/autumn” or “let it spread in winter”... How about we do neither? 


Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Statistical Genetics, Machine Learning, Queen Mary University of London.


[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 16 June 2021 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson-Covid Press Conference with CMO and CSA. | 14 June 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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