As the WHO calls “epidemiological stupidity” the idea of letting people get infected with Covid-19 in early Covid reopening, what do experts and health professionals think about the government’s handling of the situation?
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:
“Johnson poses a choice between opening up now (with high prevalence) or opening up in the autumn (with high prevalence). Both carry risks, but, he argues, the former is better than the latter. This is a false choice and hides far better alternatives.
“Suppress infections now (primarily through supportive public health measures such as support for isolation and ensuring public spaces are well-ventilated, along with proportionate mitigations such as masks) so that incidence is low and we can reopen safely.
“Government refusal to follow this path is more a political choice based on their unwillingness to provide people with the support needed for it to work than to do either with a concern for our 'freedom' or its scientific invalidity.
“All Johnson’s talk of public responsibility is an excuse for the Government to avoid their own responsibilities and hence makes us LESS able to do what is necessary to keep ourselves and others safe...
“The conclusion: Just as we must play our part in the fight against Covid-19, so too must the government. For this reason, what’s really worrying about Johnson’s policy shift is what he’s not saying. By emphasising only personal responsibility, the government is effectively abdicating its own responsibility for future outbreaks and deaths. Support measures (which were never adequate in the first place) will be removed. This new shift in approach, far from making people safer, will mean they are now on their own in the face of the pandemic.
“Sajid Javid knows that removing school bubbles and isolation for the vaccinated right now will increase infections. Sajid Javid acknowledges his policies will lead to 100,000 cases per day but goes ahead anyway. Sajid Javid – the Rhett Butler* of Health Secretaries.
“I do think it is a big risk and I think it is gambling with people’s welfare.
“I really do fear that if we were to get up to those high numbers of infections there is a risk of causing huge damage primarily to young people because they’re the ones that aren’t vaccinated.”
RHETT BUTLERA fictional character in Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind (1936). Though born a Southern gentleman, Butler is alienated from his family and consorts with Northerners during the American Civil War. He has a realistic view of the South’s chances in the war, but, just before the South capitulates, he joins its hopeless cause.
Sajid Javid. | Number 10
Dr Christian Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, University of Bath:
“Who suffers most when we remove masks? It’s people working in shops, hospitality and transport who will bear the brunt of the increase in risk. The same people who have already suffered disproportionately due to covid. This doesn’t seem right.
“This is not to mention front line health care workers, teachers, CEV individuals and their families, ethnic minorities and people in the most deprived communities. In short, the people who’ve had it worst all along are about to be hit hardest again.
“Keeping covid cases down means keeping pressure off hospitals. If covid hospitalisations rise then hospitals will have less capacity to deal with non-covid illness. It really is that simple.
“Sajid Javid admitting that we could see 100,000 cases a day grabbed all the headlines yesterday. He went on to say, “What matters more than anything is hospitalisation and death numbers.” When asked what they would be he said, “We haven’t put numbers on hospitalisations”!
“One of the key metrics you just admitted was crucial to understanding the impact of the next phase of opening up and you openly admit you don’t know what the impact on that metric will be. You might want to find out.”
Dr Julia Faulconbridge, Chartered Psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology:
“One of the most worrying aspects about the announcement from the prime minister and the health secretary is how all the emphasis is now placed on the individual, with the public told to use their individual judgement and responsibility when it comes to wearing masks and social distancing. It is all now on the I, rather that the ‘we’. Throughout this pandemic, most people have understood that the best way to get through it is by pulling together and supporting each other. Most people are in favour of doing the things that not just protect ourselves, but protect each other and that is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal to get through this.
“What we needed from the prime minister were really clear messages about what people need to do to protect other people as well as themselves – that wearing masks and social distancing, when possible, are still very important. What was also missing was any sense of what employers, schools etc. need to do to make areas as safe as possible through ventilation and other methods and how the Government will support them and us to do this. Instead we got the message that you can make your own judgements, and life is back to ‘normal’.
“The idea of the 19 July being a ‘freedom day’ is a misnomer because it isn’t about freedom, it is about how we can best manage to keep schools going, to keep businesses open and enable people to have social lives whilst preventing another major wave. For many – the elderly, the clinically vulnerable, younger people who are not vaccinated this is not a “freedom day” but actually the opposite. They will no longer feel safe to go to places that may be crowded and where others are unmasked. They are also very concerned about the removal of what support was available for them.
“The announcement focused on the lower numbers of hospitalisations and deaths as a result of the vaccination programme, but with numbers being forecast to reach 100,000/day these numbers will soon become significant. Long COVID is a serious problem, with 10-20% of people, including children, who catch the virus suffering illness, disability and psychological problems for months and that appears to have been completely neglected in yesterday’s announcement. Whilst the health minister spoke of wanting to avoid the mental health consequences of restrictions, he ignores the psychological consequences of allowing the infection rate to simply grow through the lack of society-wide mitigation measures.”
Dr Gabriel Scally, public health physician, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol, member of Independent Sage:
“Delaying people getting from sick and dying is my job as a public health doctor. I’m shocked to hear Professor Chris Whitty saying there are advantages to letting people get sick and dying from COVID-19 now. Rather than later in the year when more will be fully vaccinated and survive.”
Prof Chris Whitty. | Number 10
Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control and Director of the Arthropod Control Product Test Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:
“Well that’s it folks. It’s up to you now. I don’t know about you, but I feel completely let down and abandoned. I also feel sorry for all of those who are vulnerable and needed help to stay safe.
“Don’t get me wrong. I think that some relaxation of the rules is not necessarily a bad thing. Some areas of the guidelines could be relaxed and others strengthened (like in schools). But to abandon the whole lot all at once when numbers are increasing rapidly does not seem sensible.
“With the current rules we can already decide whether we feel safe in situations, be mindful of whether others feel safe and act accordingly after making a judgement call. We do have to live our lives but we still need care and caution, and consideration for others.”
Coronavirus briefing. | Number 10
Dr Zubaida Haque, former Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust, founding member of Independent SAGE:
“When Boris Johnson says we must “reconcile ourselves to more deaths”, is it because we know that this government is NOT WILLING to use test, trace and isolate, and quarantine to bring cases down, and to fully vaccinate the whole population before full reopening.
“And how can the public make ‘informed choices’ of ‘managing the virus’ when their own government is minimising the risks and ignoring the scientific data? We currently have more daily cases than the whole of the EU and YET the government wants to abandon ALL covid safeguards in 2 weeks.
“Johnson’s decision to abandon all covid-safe measures (as though facemasks, social distancing, limits on mass events are as restrictive as lockdown) at a time when the Delta variant cases are soaring, hospitalisations up and when only half the population is fully protected, is essentially a government GIVING UP protecting its citizens.
“And let’s be clear what high cases (~100,000 per day by July 19) actually means: more risk for double-vaccinated people because of high exposure; significant numbers of long COVID and hospitalisations for younger, unvaccinated and vulnerable groups. And more likelihood of vaccine-resistant mutations.
“It’s blatantly clear that the government is once again pursuing a reckless and dangerous herd immunity/mass infection strategy. CEV adults, parents, and unvaccinated children will be terrified.
“This is a political decision; not a public health one.
“Blaming school bubbles for the reason why 640,000 children have been sent home during term time, instead of addressing the CAUSE – rapid and unhindered increase of cases, is completely to be expected from Gavin Williamson who has done little/nothing to keep children safe in schools.”
- New Zealand not willing to risk UK-style ‘live with Covid’ policy, says Jacinda Ardern | The Guardian
- Whatever Johnson says, we can’t defeat Covid with ‘personal responsibility alone | The Guardian
— AUTHORS —
▫ PMP News reporting.
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[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 8 July 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]
(Cover: Flickr/Number 10. - PM Boris Johnson attending the National Service of Thanksgiving. | 5 July 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)