Zero Covid UK joins the NHS Confederation, the BMA, Independent SAGE, Blood Cancer UK, the Labour Party and many other medical and scientific experts, political bodies, patient groups and civil society organisations in condemning the UK Government’s rash and baseless plan to remove all remaining Covid measures. There are no scientific or public health grounds for the decision, which appears to be based on a desire to distract attention from Boris Johnson’s lies and law-breaking.
The UK’s death rate is absolutely appalling. Over a thousand people have been dying of Covid every week since mid-August, and over 30,000 people have died since the last ‘Freedom Day’. Covid is not just another form of flu, and Omicron is not necessarily ‘mild’. Even an asymptomatic infection can leave the sufferer with long Covid, a disease so debilitating and distressing that some people commit suicide. Currently, 1.3 million people in the UK have long Covid, a fair proportion of them children.
The testing regime has already been made significantly less rigorous, which makes the case rate statistics unreliable and hinders people’s ability to assess the risks, both to themselves and to others. Charging for tests will, of course, exacerbate this. Less testing will mean that some people will not know whether they’re carrying the infection. That, and lifting the obligation to self-isolate, will increase community transmission rates, which will surely translate into increased illness and death.
In Denmark, where restrictions were dropped at the beginning of February, deaths and hospital admissions have risen by almost a third. The UK should not follow this example. Instead, we should be suppressing transmission and keeping it at low levels with a properly run test-and-trace system. Test and trace must be run by the public sector. If the enormous budget it was allocated had been used to build up our existing public health system, we would not be in this mess now. Such a system would be far more economical too. The Government claims we can’t afford large numbers of tests, but if case rates were low, far fewer tests would be needed, and far fewer people would be required to self-isolate. Local authorities and the NHS could keep track of outbreaks much more easily and could quash them more efficiently. That is the way a public health system is supposed to work!
In a recent YouGov informal survey, 75 per cent of respondents were against the dropping of restrictions. Johnson has no mandate for this move. Furthermore, it flies in the face of World Health Organization advice. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General, said recently that:
…high vaccine coverage in some countries, combined with the lower severity of Omicron, is driving a dangerous narrative that the pandemic is over … But it’s not … [n]ot when we have a highly transmissible virus circulating almost unchecked, with too little surveillance to track its evolution.
In fact, the conditions are ideal for more transmissible, more dangerous variants to emerge. But we can end the pandemic as a global health emergency this year. We have the tools. We have the know-how.
The UK Government’s approach cannot be explained on health grounds. Is it encouraging the virus to spread, in the mistaken belief that this will achieve ‘herd immunity’? Herd immunity isn’t possible with a mutating Coronavirus that can reinfect people. Doesn’t it realise that booster protection will soon wane, putting large numbers of people at risk? And what about shielders and those at risk? Are they expected to stay at home indefinitely amid rising rates of infection? Furthermore, infected workers will be forced to go into work if they’re not offered adequate sick pay or support to self-isolate, and they’ll infect colleagues, clients, or in some cases, patients or people they look after.
Already, we have two sub-variants of Omicron, which are causing concern. These and future mutations will not necessarily be more benign – they could cause more severe illness. By encouraging mutation, we risk not only overwhelming our NHS but exporting deadly variants to other countries whose health systems are even more fragile than our own.
The Government must change course now and adopt a ‘vaccines-plus’ approach, with a view to controlling and suppressing this virus, and eventually eliminating it. We cannot defeat this pandemic by pretending (for a second time) that it is over, and that will not save the economy either. It will only result in yet more chaos, uncertainty, illness, suffering and death.