Last month, Boris Johnson argued that the downward trends in Covid cases and hospitalisations meant that it was time to scrap restrictions. But the government is ending testing and most surveillance studies. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said that the rise was “to be expected”. Instead, he dismissed the concern about the new Deltacron variant. The health secretary seemed nonchalant about the threat the virus now posed, reports The Guardian.
Covid is not yet in retreat
Mr Javid may be right that the country has weathered the worst of the pandemic, but Covid is not yet in retreat. The Treasury’s penny-pinching means that the UK is abandoning essential defences. It makes no sense to withdraw funding from a series of studies that allow the spread of the virus to be mapped in detail. Without the data, experts won’t be able to effectively monitor the disease.
The country will be less effective in responding and adjusting to future waves of infection. Individuals will be less able to make informed choices about the risks involved. The clinically vulnerable face being cut off from everyday life.
“It is like turning off the headlights at the first sign of dawn,” Stephen Reicher, a psychologist at the University of St Andrews, told the Guardian. “You can’t see what’s coming and you don’t know when it makes sense to turn them on again.”
“See no Covid, hear no Covid, speak no Covid” strategy
With the end of mass free public testing, and Sage scientists no longer providing regular advice, ministers are adopting a “See no Covid, hear no Covid, speak no Covid” strategy. Mr Javid is betting on a fourth booster rollout and antivirals to keep at bay any resurgent threats. Vaccinations are the main reason for a lower mortality rate.
Doctors say that there is a misguided belief that Covid is becoming similar in its impact to influenza. Flu is viewed as “only” a lethal danger to the elderly. It may be unpleasant, but rarely can cause death in a healthy person. Covid-19, by contrast, was in January the third leading cause of death in England and Wales.
End of legal restrictions
At the February press conference where Mr Johnson announced the end of legal restrictions, England’s chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, urged people to continue following the advice to use masks in crowded spaces, to ensure good ventilation and to avoid others if they were infected with Covid.
This was good public health advice. Yet that message has been conspicuous by its absence. A prime minister battling to save his own political career was reluctant to make the case before Tory MPs who chafed against even light measures. Given current infection rates, people who test positive ought to be advised to stay at home. Yet in two weeks this guidance will be dropped – and Covid rates are likely to rise further.
Most people are exhausted – physically and emotionally – after two years of sacrifices. Few want to see the return of legal restrictions and lockdowns to squash an unexpected viral outbreak. Economic and personal freedoms would be best supported by monitoring Covid’s spread and giving people the right information on how to protect themselves and others. Coronavirus no longer disrupts life as much as it used to.
But that is largely because vaccines have remained effective against the dominant strain. The government’s strategy of hoping that this remains the case seems braver now than when it was announced last month.
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Source: The Guardian