Covid infection rates in the UK are still extremely high. Even if the Omicron wave has indeed peaked, the high number of cases is significantly disrupting school attendance, putting health services under severe strain and endangering the lives and well-being of the population, especially the most vulnerable among us.
Boris Johnson’s decision to drop the protective measures of Plan B is not based on science or a desire to keep people safe. His motivation is none other than self-preservation, as he tries to appease the backbench libertarians in an attempt to keep his job.
On the day of the government’s announcement, we had more than 100,000 new cases in the UK, and ambulance services and hospitals around the country were overwhelmed by the high volume of severely ill patients and hampered by staff shortages. Under such conditions, lifting requirements such as mask-wearing makes no sense. Mask-wearing is proven to be highly effective in stopping transmission, and clinically vulnerable people need the protection that widespread mask-wearing offers. Besides, we should all expect to be protected when using public transport, indoor spaces and crowded open-air spaces. For the moment, and until transmission rates are brought under control, we need to continue to use masks to achieve this.
We cannot rely on vaccines alone to end this pandemic. Ultimately, no current Covid vaccine can offer full protection, regardless of the level of vaccination. Besides, it is only the booster or third vaccination that provides adequate protection against serious illness or death from Omicron and, so far, according to the government dashboard, only 64 percent of the UK population aged 12 or over have received a booster. This is not enough coverage to justify the abandonment of sensible precautions.
The government has failed to put in place additional public health measures, proving once more their disregard of the needs of their citizens. Classrooms are still without the HEPA filters and CO2 monitors that are needed to help keep schoolchildren and staff safe. Test availability is criminally insufficient, contact tracing virtually abandoned, and self-isolation dangerously shortened and reduced in scope. The conditions are there for the highly infectious Omicron to continue to spread at a high rate. Furthermore, such high transmission rates provide an ideal breeding ground for new variants, which might have the ability to evade the vaccines.
The government should be guided by the data. It should take action to control the spread of the virus, adopting a comprehensive elimination strategy that protects everyone’s health.
Photo via https://www.flickr.com/photos/duncan/.