YOU MAY have read reports recently about how the number of those testing positive for Covid-19 and being admitted to hospital have both risen in the last two weeks. Needless to say, this has caused the predictable rush to social media lifeboats and demands that the Government should do more. Most notable was Jeremy Vine, who from his bed as a fresh Covid sufferer wanted to know why people were not being warned about the the new threat and those most vulnerable are not being told to shield.
The good news is others are beginning to find their resolve and not be like Jeremy Vine.
I am not being glib, I too have Covid currently, and it has slowed me down considerably this past week but I don’t think the fact I have contracted the illness gives me any greater moral authority to demand anything of the Government. We are all equals in this, and when I look at the data (such as it is) I think Vine is being alarmist and we should take encouragement from the Government keeping a calm head and not rushing to introduce restrictions at the first sign of (some) numbers going the wrong way.
So why do I think Vine is alarmist?
Firstly, let’s briefly look at the numbers. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests 1.36million people in England were infected during the week to June 18, against 797,000 at the very start of June – an increase of 70 per cent.
So yes, the number of those contracting Covid has risen, due, it would seem, to new Omicron strains BA.4 and BA.5 that are more infectious but also less dangerous. (There’s a clue in words “less dangerous”). The rising level can also be influenced by a number of factors – theories abound such as more or larger social events that offer greater levels of social interaction – such as parties for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I happened to go to a packed-out Queen concert at the O2 a fortnight ago – maybe there will be a Glyndebourne and Glastonbury spike! The truth is we don’t really know.
It might also be that with many people now travelling for the summer they are testing more, and this in itself is helping to drive the number of positive cases up – many tests would not have happened if people were staying put, but simply ‘learning to live with Covid’ and soldering on, given its predominant mild and unthreatening form. Is the increase a real danger then?
The pandemic sirens also point to the number of hospitalisations climbing – clearly wanting to link the two developments together. As usual, however, they do not tend to give the full story – failing to mention that of those being admitted with Covid only a third were admitted because of it. In other words, the numbers are inflated 200% by including those that were admitted for other causes but also happened to have a level of Covid that did not require hospitalisation. This revelation suggests a more reasonable truth – the cases are probably genuinely rising but in a far milder, less threatening form than being implied. Jeremy Vine doesn’t seem to get this important aspect of what’s happening.
To back this restrained view is the fact that the number of deaths per day continues to decline – falling to a current average of thirty-five a day in England while the numbers being admitted to ICU remain stable rather than climbing.
The Government has said, and continues to repeat the message, that we must learn to live with Covid. Treating a rise in the number of people contracting Covid as a reason to shout “Fire, fire” from the rooftops – as Jeremy Vine is doing – is the antithesis of that approach. The Department of Health has said it is monitoring the figures – and I am sure it is – for there will be some among the officials and Cabinet who will be keen to intervene at the slightest opportunity. Yet we know that intervention achieves no gains while racking up great physical, mental, social and economic cost to our families and communities that will continue to stretch over many years.
Yes, if people need to be shielded – which entails more than just people staying at home but involves various procedures, rules, restrictions and economic subsidies to become an effective process – then there needs to be genuine cause and the level of shielding needs to be proportionate. We are not at the stage when, for instance, the Barrington Declaration was previously calling for protecting the vulnerable at the height of the pandemic as an alternative to lockdown restrictions. Nowhere near that.
Vine is being alarmist because he is fearmongering the change in Covid-19 as it becomes more infectious but less and less threatening. More and more commentators are (as we predicted) now admitting that the lockdowns caused great harm – and more evidence is now being published that shows they were of no benefit. (See these reports in the Daily Mail and Telegraph of the changing mood).
Meanwhile we have the cost-of-lockdown-crisis wreaking havoc across the world wherever lockdowns were enforced. The bigger the economic subsidies to make them more palatable to voters or provide a justifiable buffer to innocent businesses – then the larger the economic dislocation that is now happening. No doubt Vine will do more shows on the cost-of-living-crisis – will he make the link to the cost-of-lockdowns?
We need to learn to live with Covid by not being alarmist about how it ebbs and flows, but by treating it in the same manner we have treated Flu – being wary that it can be a threat to life, especially of the elderly and vulnerable, but not removing society’s openness and dynamism. Most of all by taking personal responsibility for our behaviour to avoid contracting disease or passing it on. That certainly means staying off work if one catches Covid – but telling people to lock themselves up voluntarily, with the implication that if they don’t stiffer restrictions will be required, is absurd.
The Siren calls of Jeremy Vine should be ignored. I wish him a speedy recovery but ask that he learns to live with Covid like the rest of us.
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Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and managing editor of the Recovery blog.
Photo of Jeremy Vine from his own Facebook video in the public domain.