Too many people believe that the pandemic is over, Engeland se adjunkhoof mediese beampte, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, hierdie week gewaarsku. Ver daarvan. Europe is at its centre again, die Wêreldgesondheidsorganisasie gesê, urging governments to continue with or reimpose public health measures. The Netherlands and Belgium have already acted. But though the health secretary, Sajid Javid, predicted last month that cases here could hit 100,000 n dag, he remains disinclined to take action – even as the latest Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (React) findings, for late October, show the highest coronavirus prevalence in the UK since the React study began in May 2020. About one in 58 people tested positive – more than double September’s levels.
Die nonchalance of Mr Javid and his boss, Boris Johnson, is unsurprising given the government’s record. (Last month’s damning Commons report on its response stressed that it had “lacked speed in making timely decisions”: less politely, it was far too late, far too often.) But their attitude is doubtless bolstered by a drop in recorded cases over the past week. Some experts think levels may have peaked, or will do so shortly, with high infection rates among teenagers gradually leading to growing immunity. Others point out that previous half-terms saw cases fall, only to rise again, and that rates remain high. Prof Van-Tam fears that increasing numbers of deaths indicate that Covid is now penetrating older age groups, and is concerned that infections are “running this hot this early” in the season.
The social and economic costs of introducing limited public health measures now are tiny compared with the effect of those that might otherwise have to be imposed later. While vaccines (and now treatments) are slashing hospitalisation and death rates, current infection levels and breakthrough cases remind us that vaccines do not stop people from catching or spreading Covid, and reduce but do not eradicate the possibility of serious health problems such as long Covid. The immuno-suppressed and others cannot be adequately protected by them. They also have waning efficiency.
The government is counting on boosters, though it says its “plan B” – mandatory masking, vaccine passports and encouragement to work from home – will be introduced if the pressure on the NHS is unsustainable. The British Medical Association and NHS Confederation believe that point arrived weeks ago. Queues of ambulances are the most visible indication of the pressures. The NHS went into the pandemic under-resourced, short-staffed and exhausted. The cumulative impact has been punishing. On top of England’s current 93,000 vacancies there are also sick or isolating staff. Any further increase in Covid patients, already numbering more than 9,500, would hammer the ability to tackle the huge backlog.
Why take that risk? Mandatory masking on public transport and in places such as supermarkets should never have been dropped in England and must be readopted: it is a minor inconvenience with major dividends. The government should introduce Covid passports for nightclubs and similarly crowded venues, as in Scotland and Wales. Met 4.5 million eligible people yet to have a booster jab, third doses must be made more accessible, and more must be done to increase vaccine take-up across all age groups. The government must also boost the meanest sick pay in the OECD. Adopting these minimal measures now would save lives, protect the NHS and prevent the need for more drastic action later.