What do experts and health professionals think about the current COVID situation with the government putting economics first by getting rid of COVID restrictions in two weeks’ time, despite increasing cases?
First published in July 2021.
— WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY —
Professor Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology, School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) subcommittee on behavioural science:
“It is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who still thinks Covid is flu. Who is unconcerned at levels of infection. Who doesn’t realise that those who do best for health also do best for the economy. Who wants to ditch all protections while only half of us are vaccinated.
Health Sec. Sajid Javid writing in the Mail on Sunday. | Gov.uk
“Above all, it is frightening to have a ‘Health’ Secretary who wants to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is “This isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing. Your behaviour affects my health. Get your head around the ‘we’ concept.”
“Which is why we accept that I shouldn’t have the choice to act in ways that remove your choice, that I can’t drive as fast as I like in town and why – as the BMA council chairman puts it: “It makes no sense to remove restrictions in their entirety in just over two weeks’ time.””
Health Secretary Sajid Javid arriving at the Department of Health and Social Care for his first day in office.
Professor Christina Pagel, Professor of Operational Research, University College London (UCL):
“Where are we in the UK with cases, where are we going and should we care? Nowhere good, somewhere worse, absolutely yes.
“We are at almost 30,000 daily cases again – numbers last seen in mid-December. Cases are climbing steeply.
“They are climbing in all nations now – over the last week growth in all nations was about 70%. It is not just testing, positivity is rising too.
“What does this mean? 70% growth is about 9-day doubling time and there are only 18 days left until 19 July. Growth has accelerated recently but projecting forward at the current 70% rate gives 90,000 cases a day on the 7-day average and over 100,000 cases a day by 19 July. The charts show the same thing on the log and on normal scales.
“This may seem unbelievable – but we have about 25 million people likely still susceptible to catch Covid (only 50% of the population is currently fully vaccinated). Schools have another three weeks of term. Most things are open, including pubs and each other’s houses. The football is on, England is winning.
“Vaccination will slow the growth but it is unlikely to have a massive impact in the next 18 days. Even if the growth slows to 50% a week, that is still 80,000 daily cases by 19 July. To get to ‘only’ 50,000 daily cases you would need to suddenly slow down a lot. Today’s week on week rise is 74%.
“So, who is getting infected? Well, mainly younger people – particularly school age children and twentysomethings. While cases are highest in 15-29 year olds, they are rising the fastest among 5-14 year olds.
“In England, the number of school outbreaks is almost back to where we were last December and almost 400,000 children were off school due to Covid in the week to 24 June. There are still three weeks left of term in England.
“In Scotland, cases are the highest in 20-24 year olds and much lower in under 14s. School term has ended in Scotland which is a good thing. Two thousand recent cases in Scotland were linked to football, particularly the England/Scotland match.
“Covid is everywhere but cases are the highest in Scotland and North of England (and Cornwall!). Looking at regional English data, once again the North is disproportionately affected by covid. But almost every local authority saw increases last week.
“So, that’s where we are and where we are going over the next 18 days. And then, on 19 July, we open a lot more. Will this matter? What about hospitalisations and deaths?
“The number of people in hospital is still low – much, much lower than it would be without vaccination and compared to where we were in November 2020 with similar case rates. But hospitalisations are rising – especially in Scotland and England, and that growth is also increasing now.
“In England, hospital admissions are rising in every region but are at their highest in the North.
“Daily reported deaths have started rising a bit but are still very low – much, much lower than compared to last autumn with similar case numbers. This is a good thing and largely due to vaccines.
“So, why should we care? Many (including the government) are saying that infections don’t matter any more, that the link between cases and hospitalisations/deaths is broken. That it’s fine if children and young people get it, and we shouldn’t worry about it. I disagree. Strongly. Five reasons.
- Hospitalisations and deaths are far lower than they would be without vaccine. But they are rising – and if we get to over 100,000 cases a day, many will still get very sick and some will die. Plus hospitals are already stressed and don’t need more stress!
- Long COVID. The ONS reports that 1 million people a year are living with long COVID, and 385,000 have had it for over a year. 634,000 said it adversely affected their daily lives. Even 7-8% of 2-15 year olds and 12% of 17-24 year olds have reported symptoms for over 12 weeks. Sooo... for every million new infections, we might expect 100,000-200,000 (mostly young) people living with long COVID. Many will find their ability to work or study affected. The longer term impact of covid on the organs are unknown – but we know covid can damage the body.
- Deprivation. Cases are at their highest and vaccination rates at their lowest in deprived areas, and people more likely to need hospital and get long COVID. Children in deprived communities suffer more from education disruption. Letting infection rates soar will exacerbate inequalities.
- Variants. Every new case provides a chance for further mutation. The Delta variant went from 0% to over 90% of cases in 10 weeks. As children get infected, any mutation that can better infect their vaccinated parents (and their parents’ friends) will have a selection advantage.
- We can prevent cases! We have safe and effective vaccines. Pfizer is approved for the over 12s and the vaccine for the under 11s are being trialled. We have an excellent vaccination programme, it just isn’t quite finished yet. We are letting things rip for the sake of a couple more months.
“We also need to support vaccines through public health measures – which the government is not doing:
- excellent (rapid!) contact tracing;
- support for isolation;
- better ventilation;
- better communication of symptoms, testing, isolation, vaccines.
“Instead, the government is planning to remove the few measures that we do have: social distancing, masks, isolation, and allowing mass events and venues such as nightclubs without testing or other measures. This is a deliberate choice to allow millions of young people to get infected.
“With our excellent vaccination programme and better public health measures, we can vaccinate instead of infect, and avoid the negative consequences of infection. Instead, the government has given up and the plan is to “live with” soaring infections. It’s a terrible plan.”
PM Boris Johnson speaks at the Council of Science and Tech with Patrick Vallance, Chief Science Officer. |
Dr Zoë Hyde, Epidemiologist, Biostatistician, and Research Officer, University of Western Australia Medical School:
“The UK evidently plans to reach herd immunity through both vaccination and mass infection. The latter has the potential to leave a generation with chronic health problems.
“If I were a parent in the UK, I would keep my children home for the immediate future. This is unsafe.”
PM Boris Johnson. | UK Government
Dr Greg Kelly, Pediatric Intensive Care, Senior Lecturer, University of Queensland:
“As a paediatrician, I’m going on the record saying that allowing kids to be freely infected with a novel disease that has unknown long term consequences is the worst idea of 2021, despite being a pretty crowded field so far.
“To be clear, I’m not talking about Australia but about other places, like the UK, where this idea is forming. Why we, one of the best COVID performers, would want to emulate countries that have had such catastrophic outcomes is totally beyond me.”
PM Boris Johnson. | Number 10
Dr Zubaida Haque, former Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust, founding member of Independent SAGE:
“I don’t think we can do anything but conclude that this government is seriously carrying out its herd immunity policy through natural infection in school children.
“This week, we heard one of the members from JCVI that actually that’s not a problem because we all die at some stage – which was an extraordinary comment, an extraordinaty careless comment to make.
“This is not a light disease. This is not a negligible disease. We know from the States that some 300 to 400 children have died from COVID, that it’s in the top 10 of diseases that kills children in 2020. It is a very serious disease and we also know that given at the moment children and not vaccinated, that is going to disproportionately impact on children from deprived areas from black and ethnic minority groups. We know black and ethnic minority groups are on average younger than the white population. About a third of Asian children are under the age of 18.
“About half of mixed race children are under the age of 18. So, letting the virus rip through schools will have uneven consequences and will be devastating the children with illnesses and for CV families as well.”.
- Independent SAGE
- Latest numbers on COVID-19 in the UK – 2nd July 2021 | Independent SAGE
- Health Secretary opinion piece in the Mail on Sunday | Gov.uk
— AUTHORS —
▫ PMP News reporting.
GET THEM INVOLVED:
[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 4 July 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - Boris Johnson speaks at the Council of Science and Tech with Patrick Vallance, Chief Science Officer. | 1 July 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)