Boris Johnson is once again ready to plunge us into grave coronavirus danger.
Despite the threat posed by the spread of the B.1.617.2 “Indian variant” of the virus, the Tories this week stuck to plans to further ease lockdown measures.
The government ignored scientists’ warnings that Covid-19 infections caused by the variant could lead to a surge in hospital admissions, particularly among young adults.
Instead, it said that from this week pubs and cafes will be allowed to serve customers indoors and indoor entertainment venues can reopen. School pupils will also no longer need to wear masks in the classroom.
Many public health experts warned against the measures. Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the government’s own Nervtag virus taskforce, said the relaxations would drive up the number of infections.
“Indoor mixing will almost certainly increase transmission of the B.1.617.2 variant but at this stage nobody can be sure by how much,” he said.
The Indian variant is thought be easier to transmit than the Kent variant which has been the dominant strain in Britain for most of 2021.
But scientists cannot say just how much more infectious it is, and estimates range between 20 and 50 percent.
“A 20 percent increase in transmissibility is not a big problem,” Hayward said. But, “A 40 percent increase would be a huge problem and could lead to a sizeable surge in hospitalisations.
“A big surge in hospitalisations would likely have knock-on consequences for routine health services and the backlog of care.”
While evidence so far suggests existing vaccines are effective against the Indian variant, those who are not yet vaccinated are in danger.
Reports from doctors in India suggest that many more young people were hospitalised during India’s current second wave than last years’ first wave.
Experts from the Independent Sage group said this week’s relaxations should be postponed—at least until the risks of the Indian variant have been properly analysed.
Ministers’ own criteria for ending restrictions include ensuring that the risk of infections has not been changed by the arrival of a new variant.
“At this point the precautionary principle should kick in,” said Dr Kit Yates, of the Independent Sage group.
“The more people we can vaccinate, the safer we become. Even a couple of weeks at this point could make a huge difference in the face of this seemingly more transmissible variant.
“A pause would also buy us time to understand more about the properties of the variant, which would put us in a better position to plan what comes next.”
Few will be surprised by Boris Johnson’s laid back response to the threat. He is the prime minister who was prepared to “let the bodies pile high in their thousands”.
But Labour’s weak opposition meant it concentrated its fire on how long borders with India remained open.
Instead, what was needed a furious tirade against Johnson for once again putting the needs of business and its profits ahead of people’s lives.