Boris Johnson’s plans to end self-isolation rules on 24 February for people testing positive for Covid-19, is a political announcement that ‘Covid is over’ –despite the real world demonstrating very much otherwise.
It is not based on his scientific advisors’ advice – with one professor saying the move was ‘very brave or very stupid’ – and leaves many vulnerable individuals without cover or means to protect themselves from life-changing illness.
But who needs experts when you’ve got management consultants, eh, Mr Gove?
The hospital where I’ve just spent six weeks visiting my brother was overwhelmed. I don’t know how the staff managed to carry on with such kindness, diligence and competence under such pressure.
The whole bay had to be cleared, cleaned thoroughly and patients moved around after one patient tested positive. Visiting was restricted to one visitor, and only at the end of life. Staff are doing all they can to prevent patients with cancer from getting Covid.
There were already too few beds and too few staff from well before this pandemic happened. This unnecessary announcement will actively make things worse.
We’ve already read horror stories about record 12 hour A&E trolley waits and overcrowded A&Es; delayed transfers of care from hospitals to social care; around 6.1million are waiting for operations; increasing delays for emergency treatments, emergency ambulances, GP and community service appointments.
Last December, 33% of cancer patients waited more than two months to begin urgent treatment – the worst case on record. What more do you need to know? Now is not the time to ‘let it rip’.
Government financial and employment support for self-isolation will likely end, leaving workers forced to go into work while infectious, returning the epidemic cycle to older age groups. The idea that most people will be OK is a bad reason for closing down all the state responses that help to control and mitigate the effects of Covid.
When potential numbers infected are so high, the relatively small risk for most people likely translates into many more people with serious illness: deaths, hospitalisation, blood-clotting and immune system changes, permanent multi-organ damage, and long Covid.
The more we are finding out what SARS-CoV-2 does in the body, the more it becomes apparent that presuming a case is ‘mild’ because someone hasn’t died or been hospitalised is premature and foolish.
Despite Boris Johnson’s many photo-opportunity visits to hospitals and his own brush with oxygen support in hospital with Covid, Johnson clearly hasn’t learned, nor has he honoured the roughly 180,000 victims and their families.
It looks like an attempt at herd immunity by infection, an experiment with a nationwide chickenpox-style Covid party where the unlucky, the vulnerable, the immunosuppressed, those with diabetes are not only invited to the party, they’re on the menu.
It is not even possible to just ‘be sensible’, because catching the virus without symptoms is common, and asymptomatic cases can be as infectious to others as those who are symptomatic.
Ministers who began by falsely comparing the epidemic to a bad flu season continue the misdirection that Omicron is ‘just like’ a cold’.
The Government’s gamble, that a rapid peak in infections will produce robust and lasting herd immunity is flawed, both on scientific and on moral grounds. It won’t work and it shows how little they’re bothered about the consequences.
There’s a fairly high chance that the resulting wave of infections will exceed any capacity that is left in hospitals or in the community to care for patients with Covid. Any increase in cases who need care is likely to have dire consequences for the function of the NHS.
As the ending of all restrictions on 24 February signals the political end of the epidemic in England, the desire we all have for this all to be over is disassembled upon us.
It doesn’t make sense to actively increase the spread of this serious disease across the population at this time in the epidemic
When cases start to rise again and the health system further gridlocks, every aspect of care, and all patients, will suffer. Witness the political management of a pandemic; where basic public health measures are seen as a denial of freedom; where mitigations somehow equate to surrender.
The Government is signalling that it considers vast numbers of our deaths as acceptable; as collateral; ‘normal’.
It doesn’t make any sense to actively increase the spread of this serious disease across the population at this time in the epidemic.
While some degree of transient herd immunity from infection may be achieved in the short term as this wave surges then dampens, in the longer term the more rein the virus is given, the more likely we will sooner face a more severe variant, which is also more transmissible.
We have already seen how effectively this virus creates successful mutations and evades existing immunity. We should be careful. We have been bitten.
Things should eventually get easier as immunity and vaccines develop, but now is not the time for chickenpox-style Covid parties.
There remain significant numbers of people vulnerable to infection and more severe complications and we have a moral imperative to do all we can to minimise harm to them in the meantime.
There is no good reason for this announcement. It will lead to the avoidable inevitability of more families whose lives will be changed forever.
Dr Nick Mann is a GP and a member of Keep Our NHS Public
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