We won't be truly safe until we have a global vaccine programme
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Cornwall saw a massive spike in Covid cases last week, after the G7 turned out to be a super-spreader event. But cases are up in every Devon district, too, as the county follows the rest of England into the beginnings of a third wave.
The Delta variant seems to be proving as extra-transmissible and dangerous as it was billed. A friend in Sussex, 70 and double-vaccinated, is poorly, but hopefully the vaccine will keep her out of hospital. Her daughter, 39, is worse, and her baby is unwell. They all seem to have got it from her 12-year-old son whose school has an outbreak. A friend in London has also tested positive.
The tragedy is that this wave was preventable. The vaccination programme is the one thing the Government has got right in the pandemic. But Boris Johnson spoiled any chance of a peaceful summer by failing to put India on the ‘red list’ when it was clear that it had a massive number of cases - and sticking to that for three more weeks after he knew how transmissible the Delta variant was. Thousands of travellers brought it to different parts of the UK. It is now spreading rapidly among the half of the population who are not fully vaccinated.
The Government has also been slow to acknowledge that it is growing fast in both secondary and primary schools. In Devon, where we are still in the early stages, we have a chance to make a difference to this. If I was still on the County Council, I’d be pressing for an urgent review of ventilation in every school - since we now know that the coronavirus spreads mainly through the air, not on surfaces - and for the reintroduction of masks, which definitely slows transmission.
It’s really not good enough to say that we must learn to ‘live with’ the virus. It may be true that it will be difficult to eradicate completely, like smallpox. However it is not like flu. Even children can suffer: 1 in 100 who get Covid are hospitalised. Younger adults are steadily filling hospitals in many parts of the country, even if vaccines are keeping the death toll among the old lower than before.
All this threatens to deprive people of much needed operations for other conditions, putting intolerable pressures on the NHS and its exhausted staff. Devon may be less threatened than most places because we have high vaccination levels. But we also have fewer hospital beds than other regions.
The new situation is incredibly frustrating for everyone, especially people who need to get together with loved ones, families who need a break, workers who have no choice but to work indoors, and shops and restaurants which need customers back. But we have no choice but to be cautious, even when vaccinated. Vaccines have been shown to greatly reduce the severity of disease and the risk of death, but real threats remain. I will therefore be doing as much as possible outdoors, only going into indoor settings when I really need to, where there’s obviously good ventilation, and people are masked.
The Tory MPs who are pressing to end all restrictions would be better advised to tell their leader what their constituents think of his border blunder. To get our economy running, we need to suppress Covid, not allow it to thrive and mutate so that we end up exporting it (the ‘Kent’ variant fuelled the second wave around the world). We won’t be really safe from Covid until we have an aggressive global vaccine programme, but the G7 offered only one tenth of the doses which are needed.
In the meanwhile, my hope is that scientists will devise booster vaccines for the new variants, and that Seaton Hospital becomes a permanent vaccination centre for our area.