I optimistically titled my last two posts on the English summer “The light at the end of the Tunnel’, and “is that is?” Both of course had big caveats, but how are things playing out?
For me, a summer wave is a big disappointment and testifies to the infectivity of Sars-Cov2’s latest upgrade which first turned up in India and then spread fast and wide by the global Indian diaspora, cheap international travel and inadequate border controls. It turns out the viral load of those infected with Delta is 1,000 times more than the original Wuhan strain. This evolution in action explains the summer wave at at time when respiratory viruses are usually quiet and makes me wonder, like last year, how things will now play out given that the Government has declared July 19th “Freedom Day”.
Freedom day for the virus
On the big day itself the irony of Bojo and his team reluctantly isolating after the Health Secretary’s post-vaccine infection is complete. Just to show the virus has no political affiliations, Kier Starmer is isolating too (the fourth time for him) after one his children tests positive. It seems about 600,000 people are being pinged weekly, so they are not alone! The virus is having a good summer!
Perhaps the fourth “Delta” wave has just peaked?
Vaccines continue to offer good protection against serious illness, but cover is not complete. For instance, on our £3bn floating white elephant, the UK aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth II, 100 crew members out of a crew of 1,600 have tested positive for COVID19, despite being fully vaccinated. This is a function of how well the virus spreads, though, of course, there is a big difference between testing positive on routine testing and becoming ill; something the vaccines continue to be much better at preventing.
The experimental Freedom day is driven by Boris’s libertarian thinking sprinkled with his Churchillian fantasy, but seems right now to be in a fix. On the one hand, there is the wish to get back to some sort of normal and on the other is the viruses ongoing spread. I and many others have realised that Boris Johnson is prone, probably after a lifetimes habit, to want his cake and to eat it.
While visiting Totnes yesterday, my plans for dinner were stymied by two cafes closed due to staff shortages. (Left) A tiny local example of chaos around the country.
My niece is a postwoman and she tells me that postal services for a big chunk of Plymouth are being compromised due to staff isolating at home. Meat processing plants are in trouble losing 10% of their staff to the dreaded ping to add to their Brexit woes and shops are struggling to keep the shelves stocked.
Even the thought of food shortages in the UK give cause for concern. Our food supply lines are very very fragile.
This is mirrored in the health sector, even with the NHS app switched off while at work. Pinged NHS staff can go back to work with a negative PCR and a week of negative lateral flow tests, though they have to continue to isolate at home – literally all work and no play! Many kids staying at home to avoid having to isolate in the first week or more of the school holiday and last week more that a million kids were isolating at home. My gardening friends is at home looking after his pinged 4 year old.
This basis of the pingdemic, the NHS App, has been the download by 26 million people, though how many are in use, or have been deleted is not known. This still leaves most people without the NHS app and being picked up by the test and trace system which according to the Public Accounts committee, has been pretty ineffective. All in all the system is a fudge, simultaneously failing to keep infections low, and clobbering large sections of society.
No cake to have or eat.
This policy is partly at least driven by Johnson’s lingering instinct to ‘let it rip’. However, the Delta variant is more transmissible and more harmful, there are lots of people around still unvaccinated and for those vaccinated the protection good but not complete. 750 daily admissions with COVID19, adding to the 4,000 patients already being looked after and the 600 on ITU is a real problems for the health sector and leads us back to the old scenario of ITU bed’s filling up.
Boris Johnson’s eternal dilemma……
Latest example – giving NHS staff a 3% pay rise, but asking the NHS to fund it.
Remember too that for every ITU bed occupied by a COVID19 patient, think of three cancelled operations for cancer or other urgent, though not emergency needs. Many of these patients need a short stay in ITU after surgery and it is not safe to proceed without a bed being available. It is clear also that the main impact continues to be in socially deprived areas where vaccine uptake is paradoxically low.
Though I feel for the worn out staff, the NHS is ‘coping’, but we expect far more than that. The waiting list has never been so long and needs a huge effort to be reduced. We want prompt treatment for cancer and all our other ailments, and appropriate care when admitted with COVID19. We want freedom from restrictions and we want to be safe.
We simply cannot have everything, and so I will continue to wear my mask in crowded places, be sensible with social distancing and urge my MP to increase government revenue to compensate those struggling and the cultural sector in particular who have been so hard hit. We need some pretty big changes in how we raise money, when looking at the challenges of the near future, for me, the time for individual wealth is over.
What to do?
Freedom day was decried as unethical and dangerous by leading doctors, who are seeing increased hospital admissions and soon yet more patients with long term symptoms from COVID19 as the price for not wearing masks, forgetting social distancing and allowing super-spreader events. The pingdemic too is a huge problem for society as many sectors are facing threats with isolating pinged staff. Yes, it’s chaos.
Perhaps the government will sit it out during the school holidays and hope that the wave will begin to diminish, which some of the data perhaps seems to be hinting. Right now there is whole new set of restrictions resulting from loss of services and liberty due to isolation, struggling businesses and culture. In a way, the restrictions have been ‘privatised’ or outsourced from the Government to their agencies. Perhaps this is more acceptable for the Johnson who don’t want to be seen to be a nanny, though Im sure changes will soon be made if this chaos carries on.
Even pandemic restrictions have been outsources to NHS App and Test and Trace.
Moves are afoot to allow vaccinated people to ignore the ping and, in September, for example, enjoy the relative peace of quiet nightclubs and other mass gatherings devoid of unvaccinated clubbers. This method of ‘encouraging’ the unvaccinated young to have the jab may well backfire.
More sensible would be to add to those vaccinated, those who have a positive PCR test, and anyone antibody positive would relieve at least some of this problem and allow a balance between our race back to normal economic insanity with some semblance of pandemic control.
The others could have a lateral flow test on admission, thus allowing a degree of freedom for all other than those currently infected, for whom isolation continues to be the right thing to do. Vaccination would make life easier, but not be compulsory. I expect there will be a change of mind, but have a sneaking suspicion that the future of nightclubs is not foremost in the minds of Government ministers.
For now, the bottom line is that if you are not vaccinated, and have not had the infection, it looks like you will get the virus sometime, so it continues to make complete sense to get vaccinated, stay healthy, get lots of sun and take Vitamin D and all do our best to face up honestly to the next wave of problems hinted at by the American Heat Dome and the German floods.
Climate change will, I’m afraid, make COVID19 look like a hiccup. The word “Biblical” comes to mind…..