For months now we’ve been told that 19 August will be “Freedom Day”, the symbolic lifting of most if not all pandemic-induced restrictions. Indeed, so imprinted on the national psyche has this date become that its preeminence overcomes all reason. We will apparently reopen for business/leisure irrespective of any countermandering considerations. Apparently so strong is the government’s faith in vaccination that its collective myopia towards the more stark statistics holds sway.
Apparently the UK is now a safe place to visit and live. You need have no fear of coronavirus infection here. This is the message coming loud and clear from the Prime Minister and his apparatchiks. The link between infection and hospitalisation is broken. All is well.
If you’ll forgive me a brief profanity, that is – to use the correct scientific term – utter bollocks. The notion that one is protected completely, sealed into our own immunological bubble, by two jabs of a vaccine is a palpable nonsense. Let me give you an example – a good friend of mine held a dinner party outdoors three weeks ago for six people. All were double jabbed. All six caught Covid at that dinner party. At least one was hospitalised. So if you believe that two jabs is the route to immortality, think again.
Throughout the last several months of lockdown, the government has subtly shifted from its initial position that science was the sole determinant when lifting restrictions to its current cavalier approach in which good news trumps good science. So determined is Johnson to be able to put on his happy face that all reason has been scattered to the four winds.
Let’s examine some stark statistics. During the second wave of infection in the UK, cases peaked at around 75,000 per day. Current rate of infection is around 25,000 cases per day. If it follows the previous wave (and there is a evidence to support the view that it will be faster, being the Delta variant, then we will hit 75,000 cases a day around early September. And there is reasonable evidence that it will exceed 75,000 cases a day by significant margin shortly thereafter.
Now I’m just a jaded old scientist – I’ve seen it all before – but the disconnect between political pragmatism and pandemic proportions has never been more striking than at present. All the science tells us not to lift the lockdown. But the need for good news apparently trumps all reason.
But perhaps the most remarkable sight of all was the presence of Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance apparently toeing the political line. Shame on you, gentlemen. We were relying on you to drive a juggernaut of logic through the vanities of government policy. Sadly, you seem to put your duty to public health in the wrong hands.
So where do we stand? About 15 months ago I remember hearing Boris Johnson thinking aloud and, briefly flirting with the idea of a “take the hit” strategy. In essence herd immunity. It’s hard to believe that more than a year later he is in essence asking the same question again.
The idea of such a strategy being adopted in the presence of this new hyper- infective variant gives me chills. Yesterday there were 400 hospitalisations for Covid. If the government’s own projection is accurate, the health service will be swamped within a month. And probably worse than during the second wave. That’s the reality.
“Dictated by data not dates” said Boris. Yeah, whatever happened to that idea?