Boris Johnson last week announced the ending of England’s last remaining coronavirus rules. His diktat is being followed by Denmark and Norway. Free testing is set to end within weeks, and virus surveillance programmes are being wound down. Covid, according to right wing leaders, is history. But professor Christina Pagel, from London’s University College, said the “normal” life we are returning to will now be “shorter and sicker on average than before.”
Pagel points out that the right’s “living with Covid” pronouncements are based on the idea that since vaccinations, the disease is now no more dangerous than seasonal flu. “Covid has been and remains worse,” she says. “The proportion of people who die once they’ve caught it was initially about ten times higher than for flu. “But it’s still almost twice as high as for flu—and yes, this still holds for Omicron.”
The impact of Covid is worse because it is so much more transmissible than flu. Now that all measures to slow transmission have ended, the virus is much freer to spread. Pagel says the pre-2020 world no longer exists, with many people facing “repeated Covid infections over the coming years”.
With Covid now enjoying the freedom to mutate, the danger of new variants is high. And there is no scientific basis for assuming that each new strain will be milder than the last. Huge parts of the world remain mostly unvaccinated, while their health services and public health systems have been wrecked. And the ability of Covid to strike countries with well-funded services should be a warning to those abandoning safety measures.
Hong Kong is in the grip of its worst wave of infections yet. The state this week confirmed more than 34,000 daily cases and was forced into a city-wide lockdown. The government had used a mobile phone app to track infections. But it took this offline last year as the number of cases dropped and track and trace measures were abandoned.
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