UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has raised the white flag and relaxed almost all the UK’s Covid-19 mitigation restrictions. Masks and social distancing will no longer be required and social gatherings of many people will be allowed again. Some of the locals are calling it Freedom Day1.
However, they are not free of Covid-19. The UK has a rapidly increasing number of cases, and at the time of writing (July 22), the seven day moving average (SDMA) of new daily cases is 46,068, up from 9,365 a month ago, and 2,301 two months ago. At the worst of their third wave in early January of 2021, there was a SDMA maximum of 59,441 new cases per day. During the January wave, while cases peaked on January 9, the SDMA death rate peaked two weeks later at January 23 at 1,2502.
The fact that the current death rate is increasing, and has gone from 8 two months ago to 10 a month ago and is now at 552, is a cause for concern, as the rapidly increasing number of cases, has made inevitable further deaths to a level of about 73 per day in two weeks’ time (about August 3), and that is likely to rise given that almost all the mitigation measures have been dispensed with.
The UK government uses the same sly tactics as the Australian government to make their vaccination rate appear better than it is by referring to the vaccination rate as a percentage of the adult population3. They refer to two thirds of the adult population being fully vaccinated, and some less than capable people in the media assume that it means that 67% of the population are vaccinated, whereas it is in fact 54% of the entire population4, which is the usual method of reporting. Ignoring children and not being concerned about their vaccination is a recipe for disaster. Covid-19 kills children as well as adults.
A recent English study of intensive care admissions for those under 18, has found that there had been 6,338 hospital admissions of those under 18, and of those, 259 were admitted to paediatric intensive care units. Of those in intensive care, 25 died. In addition, long Covid-19 does occur in children, albeit less frequently than in adults5.
The reason for Johnson’s decision to open up the country is unclear. Perhaps he is just getting tired of dealing with it all, but I suspect it is his wealthy pals in business whining about decreasing income and the inconvenience of all the lockdowns and restrictions. No doubt they have all been vaccinated and an increase in cases will not greatly affect them.
The same pressure is mounting in Australia; there has been an increase in the rhetoric of living with the virus, from the occasional politician, CEO, right wing nut jobs on the Murdoch media and other ignoramuses. The coal-loving idiotic National Party senator Matt Canavan maintains that the costs of lockdowns are worse than the benefits of suppressing Covid-19 infection6. This is despite all the evidence showing that the nations that have best suppressed the virus have done the better economically7. Jayne Hrdlicka, CEO of Virgin Australia called for the country’s borders to be opened sooner than ‘planned’, even if some people die8.
Brad Hazzard similarly seemed to raise the white flag, but backflipped very soon after. Murdoch hack, Caroline Overington repeated the RWNJ mantra that lockdowns don’t work (they do) and we should learn to live with Covid-19. Even former federal deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth has suggested that lockdowns should end in November because by then 50% of the populations will be fully vaccinated9.
Unfortunately, the other 50% of the population will have to rely on the track and trace staff to save their lives as infections would inevitably climb. The UK has 54% of its population fully vaccinated and it is still getting tens of thousands of cases a day with over 50 people dying every day2.
It seems that the ‘herd immunity’ target in many countries keeps getting lower and lower as those with large amounts of capital are inconvenienced more and more by the techniques used to keep the infection rate and hence the death rate low among the hoi polloi. Their inconvenience is seemingly worth more than other people’s lives.
It has been predicted that if the premature opening of the economy at the behest of the wealthy and vaccinated happens, many will die. This was the message in a letter to the Lancet, one of the top medical journals on the planet. Gurdasani and co-authors said:
“As the third wave of the pandemic takes hold across England, the UK Government plans to further re-open the nation. Implicit in this decision is the acceptance that infections will surge, but that this does not matter because vaccines have “broken the link between infection and mortality”. On July 19, 2021—branded as Freedom Day—almost all restrictions are set to end. We believe this decision is dangerous and premature.
An end to the pandemic through population immunity requires enough of the population to be immune to prevent exponential growth of SARS-CoV-2. Population immunity is unlikely to be achieved without much higher levels of vaccination than can be reasonably expected by July 19, 2021. Proportionate mitigations will be needed to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated. Nevertheless, the UK Government’s intention to ease restrictions from July 19, 2021, means that immunity will be achieved by vaccination for some people but by natural infection for others (predominantly the young). The UK Health Secretary has stated that daily cases could reach 100 000 per day over the summer months of 2021. The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness.”10
They had five main concerns about the government’s strategy which were backed up with data. They were:
- Unmitigated transmission will disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people who have already suffered greatly.
- High rates of transmission in schools and in children will lead to significant educational disruption, a problem not addressed by abandoning isolation of exposed children (which is done on the basis of imperfect daily rapid tests)
- Preliminary modelling data suggest the government’s strategy provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants.
- This strategy will have a significant impact on health services and exhausted health-care staff who have not yet recovered from previous infection waves.
- As deprived communities are more exposed to, and more at risk from COVID-19, these policies will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities.10
We already have an example of what might happen if nations open up too early. In late May, the government of the Netherlands noted that the number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 was falling “rapidly” and that “more and more people” are being vaccinated11. At that time the Netherlands was still having about 3,000 new cases per day and 12 deaths per day12 and they had about 18% of the population vaccinated4. They opened up the economy on June 26th by abolishing many of the restrictions, and they instituted a ‘Coronavirus entry pass’ system which venues could (voluntarily) use11.
What happened? The infection rate initially continued to decline so that it bottomed out on June 30th at a SDMA of 588 per day. However, after that, the infection rate skyrocketed to just over 10,000 a day on July 18th. This was the highest daily infection rate since their third wave in late December 2020. While the death rate hasn’t increased yet12, deaths always lag infections by 2-3 weeks, so it is perhaps too early to assume it will not increase.
After it became obvious that opening up was a mistake, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologised for “an error of judgement” in doing so. It seems that most of that increase in infections is in young people, which could also explain the current lack of increase in the number of hospitalisations13.
The increase in infections forced the Dutch government, on July 9th, to reintroduce work from home rules and restrictions on bars, restaurants and night clubs, and has cancelled all multi-day festivals and events with large crowds. One of the most telling utterances by Rutte was: “We are returning to the old advice”14. One wonders what the ‘new advice’ was and from whom it came.
Currently, the proportion of the Dutch population fully vaccinated is 46%, which is not much less than that of the UK population, which is now at 54%4. One can hope, against all indications, that the result in the UK is not as bad as that in the Netherlands. One could only imagine the disastrous consequences if Australia opened up like the Netherlands did, especially when we have only 12% of our population fully vaccinated. Anyone who does that should be held to account for their actions.