Third wave is in full swing as end of restrictions nears

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a briefing in Downing Street on coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set on July 19 as the end date for lockdown restrictions - Credit: PA

Former Devon County Councillor Martin Shaw writes for the Herald.

Readers may think I’m a broken record, going on about the pandemic when everyone wants it to be over. I’d love it if my last article had been wrong, and I could move on to something else. Unfortunately, it’s a case of ‘I told you so’.

Last time I wrote about the beginnings of a third wave of Covid, and a double-vaccinated friend who had become ill with it. I can report that a month later she is still unwell, with eye and ear pain as well as nasty fatigue, but she avoided hospital and is slowly improving.

Not everyone has been so (relatively) lucky. The wave is in full swing. Nationally, hospital admissions are going up by 50 per cent a week. Many of the patients are in their 40s, 30s and 20s, mostly unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Experts predict we could end up with more people in hospital with Covid than we had in the second wave. Death numbers are low by previous standards, but are creeping upwards.

The Delta variant, which to all intents and purposes is a new virus, spreads much faster than previous ones, and instead of trying to stop it, the Government has actually given it a helping hand - removing the requirement to wear a mask, allowing big public gatherings like the European Cup final which, sadly, was a super spreader event, and failing to impose ventilation requirements in all indoor environments.

They now expect millions of Covid cases in the coming weeks. How can this happen when a lot of people are vaccinated? Well, only just over half the population are fully vaccinated, which is now recognised as the minimum for a strong level of protection. The other half - younger adults, and children who cannot yet be vaccinated - are providing an ample reservoir for Covid viruses.

The new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, obviously wants to talk about non-Covid issues. He’s been shocked by the waiting lists for hospital treatment, now counting 5 million people and threatening to expand to a mind-boggling 13 million - one fifth of the population. But he seems incapable of understanding that the Government’s policy of allowing Covid to spread is sabotaging the hopes of all these people. In Leeds, they’re already cancelling cancer surgery because of the extra Covid pressures.

This month we’ve had a dramatic illustration of the problems close to home. We’re in the middle of summer, and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital has only ‘a small number’ of Covid patients, but it has still had to be put on the highest possible level of alert, because of high demand and staff shortages. They are asking people not to come to A&E, but phone 111 instead. They are urging families to take any loved ones home who are well enough to leave hospital.

Imagine the effects of rising Covid admissions on this situation. Devon’s numbers may be smaller than elsewhere, because more of us are vaccinated, but even a trickle of Covid cases could start to tip our local NHS over the edge and a real surge could cripple it.

Javid says the NHS is an emergency service, it will cope. But long before Covid, Devon’s NHS was drastically underfunded and, especially, understaffed. After 18 months of relentless pressure on everyone from doctors and nurses to porters and cleaners - many of whom have had to cope with Covid themselves - the last thing they need is for the Government to encourage the new Covid wave.

When the Government first planned the July 19 reopening, vaccinations were proceeding rapidly and Covid was in retreat. Now vaccinations are slowing and Covid is advancing horrifically. Boris Johnson may once have fancied himself as ‘world king’ but he now looks like a latter-day King Canute, defying the third wave. At least Canute knew what he was doing when he followed his foolish courtiers’ wishes.