Already struggling with the natural tide of winter sickness in our hospital wards, we now find ourselves plagued by even more frightening expectations of serious illness and death.
Alongside these huge but often unreliable numbers comes the threat of further restrictions and controls.
Today, there are new demands for a lockdown from those who believe suppression of Covid-19 trumps all other human endeavours. However, the attempts to shut down the community are meaningless – especially as they go against the real experience on the ground.
The true description of where we find ourselves is more accurate – and overwhelmingly – more optimistic than expectations might suggest.
Carl Heneghan: Already experiencing the normal tide of winter sickness in our hospital wards, we now find ourselves plagued by even more frightening expectations of serious illness and death.
First, our situation is very different from the one we found ourselves in at this time last year, when we plunged into an emergency shutdown. Not only do we have vaccines and the tremendous protection they provide, we have a growing number of antiviral drugs, some of which offer up to 90% efficacy for infected patients.
There has also been a significant reduction in serious illnesses. If we go back to this time last year, there were more than 19,000 patients in hospital with 2,000 daily admissions. Those numbers have more than halved, with a total of 7,600 patients and 900 daily admissions.
We must derive confidence from the fact that, despite the detail and clarity, worrisome mathematical models have over-predicted reality.
For example, the modeling used to justify Health Minister Sajid Javid’s claim that we are already seeing 200,000 new Omicron infections per day has now been abandoned by health officials.
Further modeling has been criticized for failing to consider evidence from South Africa showing that Omicron causes fewer deaths and hospitalizations even among the oldest and most vulnerable versions of the virus.
Much of the apparent rise in Covid cases is actually linked to a huge increase in the amount of testing. On December 7, Britain conducted nearly a million tests. By December 15, that had risen to 1.63 million – a rise of nearly two-thirds in eight days.
Meanwhile, the true infection rate as judged by the PCR testing system remained largely constant.
It’s also reassuring that vaccines may falter (despite the fact that protection will wane over time).
Carl Heneghan: I’m a general practitioner and an epidemiologist, and I spent yesterday morning visiting urgent cases among the elderly. Yes she was busy, but she is busy with many of the normal respiratory issues we face at this time of year
I am a general practitioner as well as an epidemiologist and spent yesterday morning visiting urgent cases among the elderly. Yes she was busy, but she is busy with many of the normal respiratory issues we have at this time of year.
I didn’t feel as though we were overwhelmed by Covid. Coronaviruses are seasonal in the northern hemisphere, as are many other respiratory pathogens, so it shouldn’t be surprising if hospital admissions are high.
It would surely help politicians and their advisers see the truth on the NHS front line, rather than listening to focus groups and staring at charts. In the real world, it is clear that people have changed their behavior in response to the change in the case numbers and the instructions they received. An analysis of people’s movements shows retail activity is down 25 per cent in Greater London. Public transportation use and workplace attendance are down 40 percent.
This is one of the reasons inflated projections become obsolete so quickly – without constant adjustment, they are misleading.
At some point there will be recognition that people can be trusted to understand and manage their own risks. However, we must bear in mind the danger to the most vulnerable and the stress facing health services.
From now on, we must be flexible in our approach to the increase in respiratory viruses in winter. If we’re going to spend time with vulnerable seniors, then yes, get tested, talk to them about the risks, and discuss with them the choice about what they want to do.
But if we have the confidence to run our lives, we need accurate data – and that’s in short supply.
We are still unable to say with confidence who is doing well in the hospital or for what reason. How many elderly patients are not because they are sick but because of the lack of family in the care sector? How many daily covid numbers?
Carl Heneghan: The virus will continue to evolve and what matters now is our ability to deal with risks and leave lockdowns behind
Holding the government to account for producing accurate information is a priority.
The virus will continue to evolve and what matters now is our ability to deal with risks and leave lockdowns behind.
We have learned from the experience of Wales and Scotland, which used more restrictive measures, that those measures did not prevent illness, hospitalization or death. They did not prevent the inevitable winter rise.
Everywhere we look, there is uncertainty. We must learn to live with that. We cannot seek endless protection from unknown dangers. Yet many in positions of power refuse to accept this.
They seek to provide an illusion of certainty, often relying on frightening statistics, the result of which can be a permanent cycle of closure. After two years we can’t have more of the same. We cannot continue to ignore the damage and divisions caused by the shutdown of society — disease and death on the other side of the Covid budget — or the fact that those who suffer the most from shutting down the economy are the young and the poor.
Collective action is at the core of our well-being, and in destroying it we risk tearing the very fabric of society.