The government have announced that all Covid and lockdown restrictions are being removed on the 19th July. It is ‘freedom day’ once more, but is this really a good idea? And will we ultimately see surging cases and more lockdowns.
I’m not a public health expert, so feel free to ignore what I say, but, I felt the need to have a look at the data for myself. I’ve found the reporting of the situation very confusing, with the media often discussing this as if it is a test of political will rather than a pandemic that cannot be influenced by ministers wishful thinking.
I find the decision to open up very worrying as cases continue to rise. On the 1st July (which is when the last confirmed government figures on case numbers are from) there were over 27,000 cases. The daily rate of cases has been steadily going up since the start of May (this is 62 days). I’ve looked at the equivalent period last autumn and cases reached a similar level on the 11th November. They only started to come down when we locked down. If we look at the two 62 day periods we can see a very similar pattern. In fact the speed of rising cases seems to be accelerating now more than it was then.
The government’s argument on this is (partially) that a new lockdown won’t be needed because eventually the curve will be flattened by the vaccine roll out. Maybe this is the case, but so far this doesn’t seem to be true.
More importantly the government’s argument is built on the idea that the vaccine has broken the link between cases and hospitalisations (and ultimately deaths and serious long-term consequences from Covid). If we look at the number of hospitalisations in the same 62 period, we can see that this seems to be the case (to some extent).
The number of hospitalisations is currently much lower and doesn’t seem to be rising at the same speed as it was in the autumn. Currently for every 78 new cases reported there is 1 new hospitalisation (based on the last 7 days of complete data). Back in November it was 1 new hospitalisation for every14 new cases, so this does suggest that the link has been broken to at least some extent (for now). On the other hand, the number of hospitilisations has doubled in the last 10 days, so it will be important to keep watching this.
So, it seems that we can expect to see rising case numbers and (more slowly) rising hospitalisations over the summer. We are basically back to a herd immunity strategy where the government is going to make no attempt to control the disease. One worry is that cases will reach such a high level that the number of hospitalisations (and ultimately deaths) will reach an unacceptable (even to government) level. Another is that this will create a two-tier society with those who are vulnerable to Covid increasingly unable to participate as the disease is everywhere. Another is the concern that the UK will become a ‘variant factory’ where mutations are free to emerge out of an enormous pool of Covid cases. And yet another worry is that the number of long Covid cases, particularly in unvaccinated groups like children, will continue to rise, creating long term health problems.
Basically, the government have decided to throw the dice and see what happens. They are hoping that cases eventually start to fall as we reach vaccine supported herd immunity and that an ‘acceptable’ number of people die. They are also hoping that if it all goes wrong they will escape any political blame as they seem to have done in relation to any of their previous (massive) mistakes around the mis-management of the pandemic.
Only time will tell as to whether this gamble will pay off…