The UK government is putting thousands of lives at risk by continuing to apply its unofficial coronavirus (Covid-19) herd immunity policy. Clearly, it has not learned any lessons from earlier stages of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, clinicians and scientists are demanding the government cease its dithering and act now to mitigate against the likelihood of many more deaths.
Pandemic restrictions in schools nonsensical
Back in July, Queen Mary University of London senior lecturer Deepti Gurdasani tweeted how government policy was all about exposing the young to coronavirus and chronic illnesses:
Let's be under no illusions- we are in a country where our government is taking steps to maximally expose our young to a virus that causes chronic illness in many. Our govt is ending all protections for our children including isolation of contacts of cases in schools & bubbles.🧵 pic.twitter.com/w2GRXDWo04
— Deepti Gurdasani (@dgurdasani1) July 16, 2021
Since 17 May mask wearing is not mandatory in classrooms or communal areas in schools in England. Nor are staff required to wear masks in classrooms. However that’s not the case everywhere. In Scotland, for example, masks remain compulsory in secondary schools for students and staff, though not for primary school children.
1.THREAD on Covid, children, failure, bafflement and anger.
TLDR: English policy has failed children, and then everyone else, I am baffled why people aren't angrier. I am angry.
23 tweet rant.
— Prof. Christina Pagel (@chrischirp) October 16, 2021
Pagel also quotes from a recommendation over the summer by the US Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) that there should be “universal indoor masking for all teacher, staff, students, and visitors” in all schools for Kindergarten to Year 12.
In an August article in the British Medical Journal – on top of vaccinations for all 12-17 year olds – Pagel recommended:
social distancing (e.g. smaller class sizes, staggered breaks); ventilation (e.g. CO2 monitors, HEPA filters, window policies, outdoor learning); cleaning surfaces; mask wearing; keeping children within bubbles of regular contacts; frequent testing; and isolation of contacts of cases.
Pagel also provides statistical evidence that “hospitalisations in 6-17 year olds are rising steeply”. Indeed, Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures for week ending 16 October show that “The percentage of people [across all age groups] testing positive for COVID-19 remained highest for those in school Years 7 to 11, at 7.80%”.
Pagel concludes her thread:
I’m fucking furious. And no, I’m not sorry for swearing.
But the bad news doesn’t end there. According to John Hopkins university, coronavirus cases per million for the UK up to 13 October were way higher than, for example, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, and Spain:
And the Health Secretary thinks this is fine? pic.twitter.com/o1yI7WEhvc
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) October 20, 2021
In July in a letter to the Lancet 1,200 scientists and clinicians described the UK government’s coronavirus strategy as nothing less than “herd immunity by mass infection”. In other words, the toleration of needless deaths. And in September The Canary reported that some clinicians accused the government of being “reckless” for allowing the “mass infection” of children.
Former chief scientific adviser and Independent SAGE chair David King condemned the ‘herd immunity’ approach:
It is unbelievable that the UK government should embark on a herd immunity strategy that will see thousands of unnecessary deaths and severe long-term illness when so much progress has been made with the vaccination programme.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, says that currently the phrase ‘learn to live with Covid’ is being used to avoid “simple mitigations”.
Meanwhile, British Medical Association chair Chaand Nagpaul has accused the government of negligence:
It is wilfully negligent of the Westminster government not to be taking any further action to reduce the spread of infection, such as mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and ventilation requirements in high-risk settings, particularly indoor crowded spaces.
We are rapidly approaching a position where, yet again, the government is delaying for too long, and equivocating over taking action. This is the time to learn the lessons of the past and act fast, or else we will face far more extreme measures later.
Demand for Plan B+
In September, Independent SAGE issued a 9 point plan to deal with the pandemic over the coming months. The official SAGE also recommended more homeworking and use of masks. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have recently been recorded as more than 50,000, with the highest rates affecting 10 to 19 year olds. The British Medical Association (BMA) reported that thousands of doctors demanded that social distancing and face masks remain mandatory.
The NHS Confederation commented:
On behalf of our members in England, we’re calling on @BorisJohnson to enact ‘Plan B’ of the Government’s winter strategy without delay to help keep people well and avoid the NHS becoming overwhelmed this winter.
— NHS Confederation (@NHSConfed) October 20, 2021
NHS Confederation CEO Matthew Taylor added that the “government should not wait for COVID infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded”. But the government appears to be doing just that.
Coronavirus: lessons learned to date is a review from the Health and Social Care, and Science and Technology Committees, published on 12 October. It reported on the government’s handling of the pandemic. According to one commentary, the review accuses the authorities of British exceptionalism, a slow response, and “groupthink”. The review says that the government’s policy “led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy”. The test, trace and isolate system also came under criticism from the report, stating it was “slow, uncertain and often chaotic”.
Meanwhile, family members of two coronavirus victims who died in care homes are to commence legal action against the government. They will argue that failure to protect their fathers was unlawful. The families’ lawyer, Paul Conrathe, said: “This case will give thousands of families a sense that justice has been done if we win”.
Those families, too, are undoubtedly furious with the government’s pandemic policy. As no doubt are the parents of the thousands of schoolchildren who unnecessarily suffered from the virus, thanks to government incompetence.
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