Should the lifting of the lockdown continue on Covid variants? | Coronavirus
The final stage of the lockdown in England is set for June 21, when the government will remove “all legal limits on social contact” – although some social distancing and mask-wearing rules will remain.
However, a senior government minister said it was too early to speculate that this would go as planned, amid concerns over the increase in cases of the Delta variant, first detected in India and known as B.1.617.2.
The Guardian has spoken to a number of experts on whether the June 21 lifting of the lockdown should be delayed – and if so, why.
John Bell, immunologist
John Bell, regius chair of medicine at the University of Oxford, said he looked at the numbers on Tuesday and was not concerned about hospital admissions, which are “pretty flat”, or mortality, which is “very flat”.
He attributes this to the rapid rate of vaccinations, saying that “the most important thing is that among those who fall ill and die from the virus, around 80 to 90% of people are now vaccinated.”
He said vaccines would undoubtedly prevent hospitalizations and deaths. He says trying to get rid of the UK virus entirely is ‘foolish’ and ‘never will’.
“If, on the other hand, you are trying to manage the disease and you are aware that there will be other variants and some activity of the disease in the background, but low hospitalizations and deaths, so that’s another question. You need different strategies for the two approaches, ”he said.
“I think you have to look at the numbers and at the moment I don’t see anything that makes me anxious, there are more cases but not that many.”
Susan Michie, Behavior Scientist
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology and director of the Center for Behavior Change at UCL, said she wished there had been more focus on “data” and not “dates”.
“But the focus was on dates rather than data, and it would have been nice if it wasn’t,” she said.
She added that what was happening now was similar to the spread of the Alpha variant, first detected in Kent and known as B.1.1.7, in terms of increased transmission, adding that “we should be worried.”
“We have all suffered the consequences of not acting soon enough with another lockdown,” she said. “No one wants this to happen again, so the starting point of communication should be to focus on preventing another wave. The main thing is to learn from the past and from the mistakes we have made and one thing we have learned about the virus is that you cannot wait to be certain of another wave. You should take action when there is a possibility that this will happen or you lose control of the exponentially growing virus. “
Michie added that a growing number of epidemiologists and public health experts, who had knowledge of the pandemic, were saying it would be extremely unwise to lift more restrictions.
Fiona Donald, anesthesiologist consultant
President-elect of the Royal College of Anesthesiologists, Fiona Donald, said her perspective on easing restrictions came from the perspective of the millions of patients on waiting lists for operations. She fears that if restrictions are lifted too soon, hospitals will struggle again – and there is already a huge backlog of people waiting for non-Covid-related surgery.
“If hospitals are busy or even overwhelmed with Covid cases, they are unlikely to get the surgery in a timely manner and that is really my main concern,” she said.
Donald added that we should be guided by what “science shows” and “there is a deadline for it”, but whatever decision needs to be made on the basis that “the NHS can cope”.
She said it was “not just about filling hospitals” but also when there were a lot of infected patients in the hospital “you are using disproportionate amounts of space, staff and resources” .
Kate Nicholls, Managing Director of UK Hospitality
Kate Nicholls, whose organization represents pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs across the country, said the government delaying its roadmap to ease Covid restrictions in England would be extremely damaging to the industry.
“It is essential that we move on to the fourth stage of the roadmap. We still have a quarter of the premises that cannot open at all. Those who can open trade under restrictions so severe that they are unprofitable. Leaving restrictions in place is not sustainable. Every day restrictions are in place, businesses are losing money and jobs are at risk. “
Any delay would force Chancellor Rishi Sunak to present a package of new economic support measures to prevent another wave of job losses, she said. More than 3 million jobs were cut in early May, according to the latest official figures, with nearly half of the hotel sector staff receiving emergency wage assistance.
“Support is essential. For businesses that can’t yet open, it’s been 16 months with no income at all. Especially nightclubs, concert halls, wedding venues and the event activities that support them, these businesses hang on at their fingertips, ”Nicholls said.
She said any reintroduction of tighter controls would be devastating for hotel businesses. “It would be a catastrophic and retrograde step. Businesses would shut down for good almost immediately.
“We don’t see any reason why there should be a delay. There is nothing in the epidemiological research or the number of cases to suggest that the roadmap is not on the right track. “
Jagjit Chadha, Director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research
Jagjit Chadha said the delay would entail costs, but the economic fallout would be far less than in previous closures.
“The good news is that it appears the economy has shown more resilience in the face of each successive foreclosure. We kind of learned to deal with it, ”he said. The UK economy shrank by around a quarter in the first lockdown from March 2020. However, GDP fell by around 10% in the second lockdown last fall and less than 5% at the start of this year in the third, he said. “The direct economic cost of foreclosure appears to be less. “
Chadha said there were good reasons to delay the reopening because the economy had adapted over the past year and containing the virus was essential for the country’s long-term economic recovery.
“So it must depend on the growth of infections and the virus. We shouldn’t stop ourselves from doing these things because of the impact on the economy. This is a secondary issue, ”he said.
Research from the International Monetary Fund shows that the economic impact of the lockdown is roughly equal to the effects of voluntary social distancing of people when they fear higher infection rates. This could strengthen the argument for maintaining certain restrictions, he said.
“People are so aware now of the infection and where it is occurring. If we did not control it, we would see a reduction in spending anyway, because people will not come out. Controlling the virus is also the only way to get the economy back to normal. “