There is a new strain of Covid 19 recently discovered in the UK that is considerably more infectious than the originally discovered strain.
From the ABC:
A new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is thought to be driving increased transmission of the disease in parts of the UK.
The government has placed some regions including London under new, stricter coronavirus restrictions, known as Tier 4. People in Tier 4 areas will not be able to gather with anyone outside their household for Christmas, while those in the rest of the country can only gather on Christmas Day itself.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his chief scientific advisors said that the new variant could increase transmission of COVID-19 by as much as 70 per cent and increase the R or reproduction number by 0.4 per cent.
The discovery has caused Boris Johnson to severely curtail Christmas celebrations in the UK, something that you can bet was the last thing that he wanted to do.
The Observer in an editorial published in the Guardian puts it in these terms:
‘We don’t want to cancel Christmas… I think that would be inhuman,” the prime minister said just last Wednesday in response to calls from scientific experts to reduce the relaxation of social restrictions allowing households to mix over Christmas.
Four days later, he was forced to abruptly change course in light of alarming data indicating a steep increase in infection rates in London and parts of the south-east and east of England, thought to be linked to a new and more easily transmitted variant of Covid-19. The government was right to immediately impose tougher tier 4 restrictions on these parts of the country and elsewhere to restrict indoors household mixing to Christmas Day only.
It is clear that without these measures there would have been a huge risk of a rise in infection and death rates in January and February as a result of intergenerational mixing over Christmas, particularly endangering older people and those with pre-existing health conditions. This is likely to have put the NHS under intolerable strain as it reached the worst point of the year in terms of winter pressures, compromising the treatment not only of people with severe Covid symptoms, but with any serious health condition. The fact that vaccines are being rolled out to high-priority groups, with more comprehensive coverage months away, underlines how ill-judged it would be to trigger a larger-than-necessary spike in the death rate with the end of this period of social restrictions in sight.
But the late nature of this decision will cause considerable pain and heartbreak to families who have been encouraged to look forward to Christmas for weeks by a prime minister who, in characteristic form, foolishly over-promised in an attempt to avoid being the bearer of bad news.
For weeks, scientific experts, including members of Sage, have urged caution with respect to Christmas relaxations, given the direction in which infection rates were heading. For weeks, they have warned that it is a question of balance and that relaxing restrictions against a backdrop of rising infection rates could lead to a significant number of avoidable deaths. It is understandable that the government wanted to allow people to see their families at Christmas after the year we have had. But Johnson should have been honest with the public that there was no guarantee of any Christmas relaxation, that it was contingent on the state of the play with the virus. Instead, he gave false reassurances and encouraged families to make and look forward to plans that, for many, will now not come to pass.
Meanwhile here in Aotearoa New Zealand we are celebrating Christmas, going to the beach, going shopping or to the cricket and generally doing what we have yearned to do all year.
Makes you want to heap praise on the Government for its go hard and go early strategy?
Not for everyone.
So how does a ginger group that so far has never budged from the thought that Sweden may be better respond? By criticising the policy that has without any doubt resulted in our rather welcome position. Because as the rest of the world struggles handling this evil virus for now at least we can live relatively normal lives.
Plan B academics have written a letter to the editor that has been published in the Royal New Zealand College of Medical Practitioners claiming that chasing elimination through lockdowns is stamping out livelihoods and lives.
Short version of the letter:
The letter concludes with this call to arms:
How many more lockdowns, billions of dollars and social and health harm is an acceptable price to pay before this misguided and expensive strategy is abandoned? We implore Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, and fellow health advisors to reflect on the points raised in this paper and to abandon elimination as a strategy and the use of lockdowns. We believe that future policy should return to the initial approach that was taken. That is to reduce transmission of COVID-19 through reasonable use of infection control, to maintain capacity in our hospitals and intensive care, while focusing public health and infection control efforts to protect the frail and elderly of our community.
There is quite a bit to unpick in this letter, mainly how can a bunch of academics get things so wrong? For instance:
I mean, really?
Professor of Health Michael Baker has also poured scorn on the content of the letter. From the Herald:
… University of Otago professor of public health Michael Baker told the Herald the letter was almost unfit for publication due to its inaccuracy and, in his opinion the authors were living in an alternate reality.
“I assume that article couldn’t have been peer-reviewed, really, because it’s got things in it which are patently absurd,” Baker said.
“I don’t know what they’re basing their claims on. I mean just to begin with, as soon as you say ‘There is no hope of a vaccine’, and they pretty much say that, or ‘It’s very unlikely’, when the world seems to be awash with fantastic vaccine candidates. I mean, surely you begin to doubt the credibility of the entire argument.”
In the letter, the Plan B group claim “a vaccine may never eventuate. After 37 years and billions of dollars invested, an HIV vaccine remains elusive”.
Baker also criticised the logic of the Plan B group’s focus on the economic impact of lockdowns, saying you needed to judge that cost in the context of all other alternatives.
“What economists always say is, it’s not about whether something costs a lot of money or not. It’s whether there is a better alternative that will give you a better result and cost less,” Baker said.
“If you haven’t got that alternative you’re better to stick with Plan A, rather than shoot off to this planet B which appears to have a completely alternate logic structure to it.
“That’s what I find almost scandalous, that university academics are putting out material that is so poorly argued and is cherry-picking evidence in a very selective way and doesn’t make any sense.”
By all means let’s have a reasoned debate about what the best response is and how we should be adapting and changing our approach to the virus. But when we have this debate ginger groups should at least try to ensure that their basic understanding of things is sound.