“Learning to live with the virus”
“Learning to live with the virus” was the mantra of the government when in July all the anti-Covid restrictions ended. Large events were allowed again with no obligation to wear masks or respect social distancing.
Several hundred doctors and scientists signed a letter of concern to warn about the consequences. A new Covid wave would rise and new variants could develop out of the future outbreak. The government was confident in its decision and wanted to proceed with its policy of “learning to live with the virus”.
What does the policy “learning to live with the virus” actually mean?
It means that the responsibility of keeping protective behaviours passed from enforced regulations to the responsibility of citizens. This approach could be debatable but it is good to keep it in mind when trying to understand the current situation in England and the next possible scenarios.
The impact of the pandemic
The fact is that there is no simple way to get rid of Covid. In the meanwhile people need to breathe, work and live. Every family who suffered a serious disease and its tragic consequence knows this basic law of life. Survivors have to carry further the legacy of those who had to leave their life before us.
As highlighted in previous posts, social restrictions were necessary to tackle the most dramatic outbreaks of the virus. People in every country strengthen their mutual support to fight the contagion. Those measures, however, caused critical problems too. Mental health issues did spread across all the social segments. Thousands of families fell into poverty. Young people experienced deprivation of opportunities. Children had to submit to an overload of screen time and remote learning.
The reality is that this virus is going to stay with us for a while. This means that the pandemic will affect not only the health conditions of many people in the short term. It will also affect our social interactions, our life style, our wellbeing for years to come.
It is therefore worthy to make an effort to improve our understanding of what is going on without panicking.
Some selected graphs -better than absolute figures- may help to visualise the current development in England (for more details visit the ONS website).
A) Cases are now as high as last Winter
As it is evident in the graph the current wave of infections is quite similar to the height of the previous winter wave. But the following graphs show the difference with the past.
B) Hospital admissions and deaths stay steady
Despite the fast rise of infections after the end of social restrictions, the hospital admissions remained reasonably low compared to the level during the previous outbreaks.
The graph of Covid-related deaths stays also low even if cases are rising. This is the most significant and encouraging difference with the previous Covid outbreaks. It doesn’t mean however that the fight against the virus is over.
C) Distribution of new infections across age-groups
This graph shows the distribution of infection rates across various age-groups. The group aged 10-19 is the highest in term of infections but doesn’t contribute to a proportional increase of Covid-related deaths.
What are the reasons for the current situation in the UK?
Experts and media identify three main causes.
Early release of social restrictions
No mask wearing and more social mixing are factors that have facilitated an easier spread of the Delta variant.
A large testing campaign has been launched instead, providing free test kits to families, schools and anyone that wants or has to keep checking their conditions.
Waning of immunity
The UK has been one of the first and fast countries to rollout vaccines to the elderly (65+) and vulnerable people. However, the effectiveness of vaccines fades after about six months leaving those groups more exposed to new infections.
Slow campaign for children and young people
The approval of vaccines for children aged 12-15 was granted in England in September. The vaccination of that age-group started on the 20th of September at a very slow pace. Until now it relied on inviting people “to come forward” rather than chasing them as it happened for the elderly.
Vaccines for children?
During the summer an intense debate preceded the decision to offer children aged 12-15 the vaccines against Covid. Various studies revealed that the benefits and risks of vaccinating children were essentially the same.
Some doctors claimed that the vaccination of children could cut the spread when the schools restarted. Other doctors called for sending vaccines to countries in need of it and let the children get the natural immunisation.
This last option though comes with risks too: for the children who might get Covid and for the faster spread of infections within families.
A “gamble” or a winning decision?
So, is the policy of the UK government a “risky gamble“, as several scientists called the decision to lift all the social restrictions in July? Or the winning decision that enables people to restart their lives and take responsibility to protect themselves and their beloved ones as appropriate for their personal circumstances?
We will find out soon, I suppose, but surely there is more confidence now in a positive development than one year ago.
What lies ahead?
Well, certainly nobody knows…
The 13th of November 1789 the Father Founder of the American Constitution, Benjamin Franklin wrote a famous sentence:
“Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but in this world nothing is certain except death and taxes”
The novel virus taught us something that wasn’t included in Benjamin Franklin famous sentence.
In addition to death and taxes there is -dare I say- a third thing that is certain: our ignorance!
We can’t pretend to know everything about this virus and be so sure that our way of doing is the only one and the best one. There is something that we don’t yet know about it and honest scientists like Anthony Fauci have recognised this lack of knowledge in various occasions.
Before Dr Fauci, Albert Einstein wisely observed that “information is not knowledge: the only source of knowledge is experience”.
More recently Stephen Hawkins reminded us:
The greatest obstacle to knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge!
Keep safe dear Friends!
Let’s do our part in fighting the virus and protecting us all this winter!
Then we may enjoy a better new year and a great summer!