Boris Johnson toys with herd immunity despite evidence linking long Covid to brain damage

Coronavirus and Boris Johnson to represent long Covid

Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the UK are soaring, with the latest daily figure for 9 July showing at 35,707 cases. Leading scientists and clinicians are saying the government’s plan to ease lockdown on 19 July is both “dangerous” and “unethical”. But Johnson is sticking to his plan, which is herd immunity in all but name. Meanwhile, recent studies reveal that damage to brain tissue could be yet another consequence of long Covid.

The reality

Earlier in July, Independent Sage member professor Christina Pagel warned that around 25 million people in the UK are still susceptible to coronavirus infection:

Moreover, she explains that the fastest rising infections are with 5-14 year olds:

Pagel argues that the government’s decision to remove restrictions will see many more young people affected. And she describes this as “deliberate”:

Long Covid and brain damage

Then there’s long Covid. According to an Office of National Statistics (ONS) report published this month, “An estimated 962,000 people living in private households in the UK (1.5% of the population) were experiencing self-reported “long COVID”.

Pagel highlights some of the damaging effects of long Covid, including brain damage:

Epidemiologist Deepti Gurdasani also tweeted about the risk of brain damage from long Covid:

Indeed, in June it was revealed that a longitudinal UK study found that Covid-19 appeared to lead to long-term loss of grey matter. The study followed an earlier report on Covid-19. It claimed that neuropsychiatric symptoms of the illness include microstrokes and damage to neurons. And that the mechanisms of brain damage from Covid-19 “may resemble those involved in traumatic brain injury”.

Herd immunity in all but name

When the Johnson-led government says we have to learn to live with the virus, it’s just another way of saying herd immunity, whatever the consequences, is back on the agenda.

Anthony Costello, Independent Sage member and professor of global health at University College London, bluntly explains some of these consequences:

Under the new libertarian public health system, “living with the virus” means we must not compromise people’s freedom to do what they like. If you prefer to cough and sneeze in a crowded commuter train, so be it: there’ll be no legal restriction on that. If porters, nurses, doctors, care workers, bus drivers or factory workers become infected, and if some of them die, so be it.

And Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at Oxford University, put it another way. In her blog for the BMJ, she said:

the best way to increase transmission of airborne viruses is pretty much what has just been announced as government policy—abolish physical distancing rules, abandon universal masking, and encourage people to gather indoors in under-ventilated spaces for prolonged periods to celebrate their newfound “freedom.”

Health secretary Sajid Javid has already declared we may soon be witnessing 100,000 daily cases of the virus:

As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise. They could go as high as 100,000. We want to be very straightforward about this in what we can expect in terms of case numbers.

Surely this is a testament to massive government failure.

Secret agenda?

Meanwhile, journalist Nafeez Ahmed claims that a government advisor advocated herd immunity earlier this year, in April.

That advisor is professor Robert Dingwall. He sits on the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) sub-group on coronavirus vaccines and the New and Emerging Respiratory Viral Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).

In a recent tweet, he argues in favour of “natural immunity generated through infection” for teenagers:

Rejecting the government’s approach

But scientists are advocating a very different approach to that of the government’s.

As reported by The Canary, an open letter published in the Lancet was signed by 122 leading clinicians and scientists. Authors of the letter condemn the government’s current coronavirus approach. Instead, they believe the government is “embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment” and “call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021”.

Further, they advocate that:

the government should delay complete re-opening until everyone, including adolescents, have been offered vaccination and uptake is high, and until mitigation measures, especially adequate ventilation (through investment in CO2 monitors and air filtration devices) and spacing (e.g, by reducing class sizes), are in place in schools.

They add:

Until then, public health measures must include those called for by WHO (universal mask wearing in indoor spaces, even for those vaccinated), the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ventilation and air filtration), and Independent SAGE (effective border quarantine; test, trace isolate, and support). This will ensure that everyone is protected and make it much less likely that we will need further restrictions or lockdowns in the autumn.

Self-inflicted wound

The authors followed up the letter with an “emergency summit“. During that summit Lancet editor-in-chief Richard Horton quotes Mike Ryan, head of emergencies at WHO, saying surges in case numbers are a result of “epidemiological stupidity”.

Horton adds that if the government continues with its plan to loosen restrictions on 19 July “it will not be freedom that we win; it will be a self-inflicted wound”.

Johnson is putting lives at risk, as well as the long-term health of possibly millions of citizens. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where this wouldn’t be described as criminal.

Featured image via Pixabay / YouTube

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