By Mark Buckley
The global pandemic continues to rage, while the British government and political commentators refuse to learn any lessons from other countries, or even to acknowledge that this is a global phenomenon. The British government’s persistent mishandling of the coronavirus crisis continues. The latest easing measures begun on December 2nd with further easing scheduled for the holiday period seems certain to revive the numbers of cases and then, with a slight delay, an increase in hospitalisations and deaths.
There is approximately a 10-14-day delay between infection by Covid19 and the virus being detected. This means that a new increase in infections is to be expected around in mid-December which will then be made worse for the proposed further relaxation over Xmas.
The latest ‘lockdown’ which was even less comprehensive than the first set of measures adopted in March, is being ended even though new cases and deaths are at extraordinarily high levels. These are shown in Figures 1 and 2 below.
If we take the two lockdowns to date, the first was begun on March 23rd when 7-day moving average for new cases was 1,293 and new deaths were at 43. The second lockdown began on November 2nd with new cases and new deaths both much higher, at 22,754 and 265 respectively. At the time of writing, just before the latest lockdown is ended, the 7-day moving average for new cases is 15,082 and for new deaths is 460.
This means that, barring any change of plan, a ‘Third Wave’ of the virus is unavoidable. This is because there is a total disparity in timescales between the beginning of infections and the rolling out of vaccines. Infections can double in two weeks or less while mass rolling out of vaccines will take several months. Even if cases fall for another 10-14 days, due to the effect of the recently expired lockdown, they will still be many thousands a day before they begin to rise again in mid-December. During this gap in time between the lifting of lockdown and the possibility to have a mass roll out of vaccines a third wave will unfold.
Fig.1 UK New Cases
Fig.2 New UK Deaths
Lockdowns work – but more is needed
The scientific evidence is that at least a significant number of the vaccines work. But it will take several months to roll them out. Until this can be done the virus can only be controlled by measures of physical isolation – lockdowns and testing-tracing-isolation
After four weeks of the current lockdown, cases have fallen by about one third. But deaths have fallen by a lower proportion. And both new cases and deaths are more than 10 times greater than when the first lockdown was introduced. This is a recklessly high base to begin easing restrictions.
The initial lockdown lasted ten weeks and cases eventually fell by 90% before rising once more. Deaths fell by more than 99%, as the totals from a little under 1,000 per day to just 7 – and stayed there over a prolonged period.
Clearly, lockdowns work to suppress the virus. Loosening restrictions works in the opposite direction.
But lockdowns alone are not enough. The overwhelming majority of scientific opinion is that a fully effective system of testing, tracing and supported isolation must also be in place to suppress the virus. The lessons learnt from China, and successfully applied at some point in a variety of countries, including Australia, Cuba, New Zealand, Viet Nam and others are that a combination of all these measuress is required to defeat the virus. Vaccines are a powerful new tool but will not begin to become effective until the Spring.
In this country, none of what is required until the vaccines can begin to be effect is in place. In addition to the repeated premature ending of lockdowns (and the vast gaps created recently by keeping non-essential work and schools open), the testing and tracing system outsourced to the private sector has been a complete failure. Many contacts are not even alerted that they need to self-isolate and many others live in fear that they will rapidly fall into greater poverty in isolation as government support is wholly inadequate.
Without addressing any of these, the government and its tame media falls back on promoting the coming vaccines. The first arrival of the vaccines now provides huge relief. But shortages, the timescale of roll-out required and to some extent the campaigns of the anti-vaxxers will all limit their efficacy in the coming months. They are part of an integrated arsenal required to fight the virus, not a single magic bullet to end the crisis.
The Third Wave
The current government plan is to ease restrictions now and ease further just before Xmas. The US authorities report an upsurge in cases and hospitalisations following Thanksgiving, and there is no reason to suspect a different outcome if these government policies are followed.
There will be some respite from the closure of the schools, as schools are now the greatest single source of infection. Set against that and probably outweighing it significantly will be the movement of millions of people, including university students, officially encouraged to return to their families over the holidays. A Third Wave of cases, which would inevitably be followed by an increase in hospitalisations and deaths, is predictable early in the New Year.
Currently, the main political pressure comes from forces to the government’s right, led by and free-marketeers who demand even more subsidies for business. So, Johnson initially floated the idea of New Year restrictions lasting until Easter, which has since been brought forward to the beginning of February.
Yet it should be clear now across the labour movement that the government’s catastrophic approach to the pandemic has also led to a disastrous impact on jobs and the economy. The longer the Covid19 crisis continues the worse the economic situation will get. Already tens of thousands of job losses are being announced daily due to the failure to orient to eliminating the virus in the summer, when it was at a low level, the lifting of the first lockdown, and therefore the medically and economically devastating second wave which is currently unfolding. Retail, hospitality, tourism and accommodation are being hit severely, but this will have knock-on effects across the economy. Any caution about addressing complex matters of public health should be more easily set aside when both livelihoods and lives are at stake. What is required remains a Zero Covid strategy in which all available measures – lockdowns, testing and vaccines are thrown at reducing the virus as rapidly as possible.
Fifteen Labour MPs voted against the new Tier measures, some of them on the grounds they are inadequate. This is the right approach. As even Starmer the inveterate abstainer said, these measures will not end the crisis.
Socialists have the urgent task of building a coalition of all the most powerful forces who are willing to stand up to the government and oppose their reckless policies which have led to some of the worst public health and economic consequences in the world.