Are Britons really tolerating sky-high Covid rates?

“Masks” by Swerz is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Britain has high Covid rates, hospitalizations and deaths when compared to the rest of Europe. Britain has registered nearly half a million cases in the past two weeks — and almost 50,000 on Monday. This is more than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.

The UK reported 223 deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since early March.

But, looking at people in pubs, clubs and sports venue this cannot surely be the case!

The reality is that hospitals in Britain are struggling with the strain of new admissions. Britain had early success with the vaccine rollout; now road blocks have occurred for the rollout of booster shots and shots for children.

Some things may yet shut back down; Johnson’s spokesperson admitted on Monday that a “challenging” winter lies ahead, and the Prime Minister has refused to rule out a return of mask mandates or stronger restrictions to protect the country’s National Health Service (NHS) in the coming weeks.

Covid rates under control?

In July virtually all of England’s Covid restrictions were lifted; doesn’t this mean that it must be under control?  Events and hospitality sectors return to full capacity as Mr Johnson urged Britons to “begin to learn to live with” this virus.

Health Minister Ed Argar has said the public should “go ahead” and book Christmas parties despite concerns around rising coronavirus cases, as he urged people to come forward and get the booster jab.

This must mean that Covid is under control!

On CNN Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London said:

“All of the government’s messaging and actions suggest that we’re out of danger.” (CNN)

Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said:

“There’s been a lot of messaging that the pandemic is essentially over, so a lot of people are thinking: “why bother?”  (CNN)

Prof John Drury, a social psychologist at the University of Sussex, said recent research showed that people use government policy to make judgments on risk and how to behave:

“The overall message is that the actions by the public – not only mask-wearing, but also distancing and avoiding crowded places – are no longer required.”

Just 40% of Britons still regularly practice social distancing, compared to 62% in mid-July and 85% in April, according to the Office for National Statistics. The same recurring study has also found a gradual decline in mask-wearing.

Problem is the population!

Mr Javid told a Downing Street news conference:

“If not enough people get their booster jabs, if not enough of those people that were eligible for the original offer… if they don’t come forward, if people don’t wear masks when they really should in a really crowded place with lots of people that they don’t normally hang out with, if they’re not washing their hands and stuff, it’s going to hit us all.”

It seems that Britons really are tolerating sky-high Covid rates, and it’s our fault.

Prof Robert West, a health psychologist at University College London who participates in Sage’s behavioural science subgroup said:

 “What we are seeing is a decision by the government to get as many people infected as possible, as quickly as possible, while using rhetoric about caution as a way of putting the blame on the public for the consequences,” (Guardian 23/07/2021)

“It looks like the government judges that the damage to health and healthcare services will be worth the political capital it will gain from this approach,”

Deepti Gurdasani told CNN two months ago that we are left with a vaccine-only strategy:

“We have extremely high infection rates in children (and) they’ve spilled over into the elderly population…We’re approaching winter, and things are only going to get worse.”

I am not convinced that we, the public, are tolerating higher Covid rates. Covid fatigue amongst the public is another challenge. Mass events are underway with no vaccination requirements and little trace of the pandemic on British high streets during busy periods.

Covid fatigue

Is the British Government addressing Covid fatigue?

The WHO have issued a policy framework:

They propose four key strategies for governments to maintain and reinvigorate public support for protective behaviours. These are:

Understand people

Collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication.

Allow people to live their lives, but reduce risk

Wide-ranging restrictions may not be feasible for everyone in the long run.

Engage people as part of the solution

Find ways to meaningfully involve individuals and communities at every level.

Acknowledge and address the hardship people experience and the profound impact the pandemic has had on their lives.

Lack of example set by the government

Mr Javid commented that mask-wearing in a crowded place had not been heeded by most conservatives. The House of Commons is an inside enclosed space.

Professor West expressed that it was important for MPs to be seen wearing masks.

He said:

“Actually people who are ambivalent, it gives them a kind of excuse if you like to say, ‘If they’re not doing it why should I do it?’”

Andy Clarke MP (Conservative Member) asks a question at Prime Minister’s Question time on 22/09/202.

In contrast the Labour benches. Mr Barry Sheerman MP (labour MP) con the same day.

PMQs 22/09/21

Photo by Jessica Taylor (UK parliament)

Exaggerations, rumours, myths and falsehoods

This problem is not new. B. D. Kelly published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, (2020):

“Exaggerations, rumours, myths and falsehoods also abounded during the Spanish flu pandemic, causing confusion, distress and a great deal of panic. Today, social media are especially prone to such issues. In February 2020, the WHO took specific steps to counter the inaccuracies and conspiracy theories that were spreading in both social and conventional media (Lancet, 2020a; Zarocostas, 2020).

Various medical journals made reliable information available for healthcare professionals (Lancet, 2020b; Razai et al. 2020). These steps are important. The experience of the Spanish flu clearly demonstrates the power of myths to persist and the urgent requirement for calm, factual information to counteract unhelpful panic.

Increased level of testing in UK

Although some of the disparity in infection rates between Britain and other countries can be attributed to higher levels of testing (especially in schools and hospitals), testing alone doesn’t explain the gap. Rates of hospitalization and even death are several times higher in the U.K. than in comparable European countries. (Washington Post 20/10/2021)

General confusion and lack of information and questions

I often hear:

“But how do I know the if the vaccine itself will be harmful.”

Nobody knows. We do know you can die, be very sick or may have long Covid causing disability for many months or years.

But can’t you still get Covid and pass it on after having the vaccine?

One dose of Covid-19 vaccine can cut household transmission by up to half. The transmission is markedly reduced. Vaccines are associated with reduced likelihood of household transmission by 40-50% from individuals diagnosed with Covid -19 after vaccination. This analysis was primarily intended to understand impacts on transmission to household contacts rather than those outside the household these results could also have implications for transmissibility in other settings with similar transmission risks.

You can still get Covid after the vaccination!

Yes; but this is much reduced. From 1.1 million participants who had one or both doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine between 8 December 2020 and 14 May 2021 there were 2,394 and 187 people who tested positive for Covid -19 more than two weeks after their first and second jabs, respectively.

In this study one in 500 (0.2%) and one in 3,333 (0.03%) got Covid – 19 after first and second dose of the vaccination, although the individual chances of getting infected after vaccination will depend on the prevalence of Covid -19 in your area at any given time. Only 104 people in the vaccinated group who tested positive for Covid -19 ended up in hospital (one in 2,500 or 0.04%).

Are Britons really tolerating sky-high Covid rates?

No. We’re humans receiving mixed messages, who are worried, confused and doing what we are able.

Read more by Carol Westall

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