Wednesday 3 November 2021

Covid Horseshoe Theory

I've written a piece for the New Statesman about the people threatening us with lockdown if we don't accept 'modest' restrictions. These restrictions are, in fact, more draconian than anything enforced since the war with the sole exceptions of lockdowns themselves. Moreover, a scenario in which another lockdown is necessary is highly unlikely. 

Devi Sridhar, the doyenne of Zero Covid, told the New Statesman last October: “The longer we delay the decision to go into lockdown, the longer it is going to last.” Now she is saying that if the government doesn’t introduce vaccine passports and mandatory mask-wearing, “we will be pushed into a Plan C this winter that will look a lot like lockdown.” To be clear, Sridhar says in her most recent New Statesman interview that “lockdown happens when the NHS is basically collapsing”, so it looks like she believes the NHS is going to collapse despite all the vaccinations and booster shots. “Waiting and watching just doesn’t work with Covid,” she says, “as we have learned repeatedly over the past 22 months.” But are the last ten months really comparable with the 12 before them? Cases are falling in England and this is the fifth time they have been on a downward trajectory since “Freedom Day” in July. This didn’t happen without lockdowns last year. Moreover, the number of new cases is lower than it was on Freedom Day. If the government didn’t go to Plan B in July, why should it go there now?

One answer is hospital capacity, but while the number of people with Covid in English hospitals has risen from around 5,000 at the end of July to 7,000 today, it is a far cry from the 14,000 last November, let alone the peak of 34,000 recorded in January. A quarter of these people are not even being primarily treated for Covid-19 and there are fewer people with Covid in mechanical ventilation beds than there were at the end of August. It is almost certain that the NHS will be in crisis this winter, as it is every year, but it will not be the public’s fault. We cannot make a habit of staying home to protect the NHS.

It is true that if the recent rise in hospitalisations continues throughout the winter, Covid will put the NHS under intolerable pressure. But there is no reason to think it will. Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, is fond of saying that epidemics are either doubling or halving. Since July, Covid in the UK has done neither. Rates have gone up and down in defiance of Sage’s projections, for reasons that nobody fully understands. The logical conclusion to be drawn from Whitty’s motto is that we no longer have an epidemic – rather, we have an endemic virus that everybody will catch sooner or later, possibly more than once. If the summer and autumn surges help to “flatten the curve” over winter, we may look back on them as a blessing in disguise.

It's free so do read it all.


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