There’s a new wave of Covid infections spreading—but we can’t measure its speed and severity because the Tories have scrapped almost all monitoring of the disease. The new “Eris variant”, technically called EG.5.1, now makes up one in seven new Covid cases and is rising fast.
Just like its forebears, it has the potential to make people seriously ill and it can kill. We only know about the new infections because the UK Health Security Agency was tipped off about a new variant by international partners—and because of an increase in Covid hospital admissions of over 30 percent.
In the week ending 30 July, the admission rate was 1.97 per 100,000 people—up from 1.47 the week before. The primary way of tracking the spread of infection is now the Zoe Health Study app, in which volunteers agree to report any Covid-like symptoms. The government has long since closed its own tracking app.
Virologist Lawrence Young, from the University of Warwick, says the rise in cases is “probably because of waning protective immunity”. “It’s some time since people received their last booster jabs or were previously infected… and (now there is) increased mixing in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces,” she adds.
With autumn approaching, and people returning to school and work, infection rates could grow rapidly. But without the earlier surveillance studies that tracked the disease, experts now say they are in the dark about how Covid might play out.
That means the government has no idea about whether to reintroduce basic public health measures, such as insisting upon high quality face masks within healthcare settings. And it has no clue as to what advice to give vulnerable people.
At the very minimum, it should bring back the nationwide infection survey that was published by the Office for National Statistics. That could be expanded to cover flu and respiratory viruses, such as RSV, which are also big killers. Information about infection rates would at least give people a chance to make informed decisions about how risky certain activities are.
Christina Pagel, a professor at University College London, said, “What worries me most is if we get a repeat of the last winter NHS crisis this winter again, with Covid, flu and RSV all hitting around the same time. “We are definitely flying near blind.”
But the Tories will do none of what is necessary. They will insist that Covid is “over” because bosses want to ensure the wheels of commerce continue to turn. And they refuse to learn lessons because their record during the pandemic was one of shame.
Thousands of people in Britain would still be alive today if the government had followed the best protocols. And many thousands more would be free of long-Covid symptoms that now blight their lives.
With some fanfare the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency last week opened a new laboratory she hopes will rapidly respond to new viruses with new vaccines. The job of the 280 scientists at the centre is to “detect threats at source and control them before they spread.”
So does the opening of this new unit mean the government has learned at least some lessons from its Covid disasters? Sadly no. The first phase of the Covid Inquiry has already shown us that Tory ministers ignore science when it doesn’t suit their political needs or their budgets.
Tory former health secretary, hapless Matt Hancock, told the inquiry that when he took the job, he was told Britain had stockpiles of anti-flu meds but no anti-viral drugs.
But he chose to do nothing about that because he had decided that obesity was the number one issue facing the country’s health. Several witnesses told how they backed a generic plan for a viral infection that could be amended depending on the threat.
But, they said, “groupthink” gripped the political and health establishment. The mantra was, “Ready for flu, ready for anything”, said Sir Chris Wormald of the Department of Health and Social Care.
Having a team of scientists on permanent call to warn politicians of possible pandemics is great if their alert is met with action. But it will be utterly useless if health ministers don’t use this advance notice to fund the production and delivery of new vaccines.
The government is not just in denial about new Covid infections. It’s making it more likely that the disease will spread and that new variants will emerge.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) —its advisory body on Covid protection — last week proposed that only those at “high risk of serious disease” should be offered additional Covid and flu jabs. Last year everyone over 50 years old was offered both free of charge as part of a plan to reduce the pool of infection.
The committee admits budget cuts helped drive its latest decision. It means some 12 million people over the age of 50, but under the age of 65 in England will be denied potentially life-saving injections this winter.
The Covid jab is not available privately in Britain, so those ineligible will be unable to buy the jab themselves.
Long Covid infections and the many lives it wrecks, are routinely ignored by the department of health. But new research shows just how deadly the disease can be.
According to the Science Translational Medicine journal, long after lungs have healed from a Covid infection multiple organs, including the heart and kidneys, can remain affected.
That’s because severe Covid infections can damage the body’s mitochondria, which produce energy for cells to function.
Today some 65 million people worldwide are living with this devastating disease. By failing to offer vaccines to everyone, the Tories are putting people with long Covid in Britain in even more danger.
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