The UK recorded 23,510 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, meaning the total number of cases in the last seven days is 7.3 percent higher than the week before.
This significant development will not halt the ongoing efforts to proclaim the predicted extent of the third wave of the pandemic greatly exaggerated, or the insistence that the vaccination programme means that we can all “learn to live with the virus.”
A drop in COVID infections from the end of July became the occasion for demands that no mitigating measures be considered going forward, and above all that there be no talk of re-implementing a lockdown.
Daily recorded infections had more than halved from mid-July over a two-week period from a high of 54,674 on July 17 to 22,287 on August 2. The drop continued into a third week, prompting some scientists to claim that we have “turned a corner” and others to suggest that “herd immunity” had been reached. There were even demands to stop recording infections as this was misleading given that only the declining rate of hospitalisations mattered.
The “dip” has, however, been short-lived. The virus spread is speeding up once again as the impact of “Freedom Day” on July 19, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson ended all compulsory measures to reduce the spread of the virus and opened up night clubs and mass social events, begins to be felt.
But even as this became apparent, Neil Ferguson, epidemiologist from Imperial College London and a former member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), who first called for the national lockdown in March of 2020 and predicted that “Freedom Day” could lead to 200,000 daily infections, was wheeled out to assert his belief that “further lockdowns are unlikely” to be required.
Despite acknowledging that COVID cases are expected to rise again in September, when school and university terms begin and more workers return to the office, he insisted, “The UK, like elsewhere, would probably have to accept the continuing presence of COVID-19 as a potentially lethal threat.”
“I suspect for several years, we will see additional mortality,” he continued. “There’s a risk in the winter coming of thousands to tens of thousands more deaths”.
Others also insisted that “living with the virus” means accepting large numbers of fatalities. Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, warned that numbers of positive COVID cases will “remain high for our lifetimes” and the coronavirus will never be eradicated. It will, he said, become endemic and circulate throughout the country for generations.
The Mail Online commented that “Scientists believe the virus—called SARS-CoV-2—will eventually morph into one that causes a common cold as immunity builds up over time.”
In contrast, more serious scientists warned against a “premature” interpretation and systematically unravelled the complex circumstances that produced the short-term decline in cases.
Epidemiologist John Edmunds at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), referring to the initial dip, said, “One thing it doesn’t mean, is that the United Kingdom has built up enough population immunity through vaccination and natural infection to stop the virus spreading.”
According to Edmunds, the drop might appear more pronounced because of an additional spike in infections in England in mid-July, caused by large crowds watching the delayed Euro 2020 football tournament in pubs, private homes, stadiums and town centres.
There were also many people alerted by NHS contact-tracing apps that they had recently been in close proximity to someone who tested positive. This spate of alerts, derisively dubbed the ‘pingdemic’, where many people were forced to self-isolate, “might have done its job in slowing the spread of the virus”, according to Edmunds.
Another major reason for the temporary decline is the end of the school term. Although officially schools in England closed around July 23, a school-related decline in cases could already be apparent in today’s data because some finished a week or so earlier, older students were off school after their exams, and around 20 percent of pupils were self-isolating by that point. Schools were a key vector in the spread of the virus once reopened with the support of the Labour Party and trade unions.
There has also been a dramatic drop in testing. On July 15, 1,177,716 lateral flow tests were conducted. On July 25, as schools fully closed, the numbers dropped to 791,044.
Deepti Gurdasani, leading data scientist and staunch opponent of “herd immunity”, wrote of the increase in infections in the latest data, “I was hoping that declines would hold at least until schools re-opened, but much depends on the impact of 19th July on behaviour, and it looks like rises may resume earlier. These will no doubt accelerate with school openings. It’s still beyond me why govt [government] removed mask and distancing mandates, and caps on gatherings, allowing large events to go ahead prematurely, creating surges and continuing high transmission (which we’ve had for over a month now) - while >40% remain not fully vaccinated.
“This will further fuel the fire. Let’s remember we got to 50-60 hospitalisations/day for children - the impact of high infection in children just before term ended. What level of illness in children does our gov’t consider acceptable?”
The proportion of those in hospital aged 18-34 years now stands at 20.4 percent, a fourfold increase from the height of the pandemic in January. Despite around 75 percent of the UK adult population now being fully vaccinated, there is still a large pool of susceptible and mainly young people. The highest rate of infection is currently in people aged 16-24, most of whom are either unvaccinated or have not yet received both jabs.
An estimated 34,000 children in the UK are already suffering from Long COVID. This includes 11,000 children aged 2-11 and 23,000 aged 12-16, according to a survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS estimates also suggest that 380,000 people in the UK have experienced Long COVID for at least a year. Overall, just under one million people are thought to be suffering from the syndrome.
Many researchers and scientists are predicting that that the return of school pupils, university students and office workers in September, as well as the possibility that protection from the first round of vaccines will wane, is likely to fuel a larger rise. “I think the summer will be a bit of a firebreak, but that the pandemic will slowly grow again and things will escalate in the autumn,” says Immunology Professor, Alex Richter. “It is by no means all over yet.”
Evidence has also been published showing that vaccinated people infected with the Delta coronavirus variant may be able to spread it just as easily as those who have yet to be immunised. Although the COVID jabs appear to reduce an individual’s overall risk of catching Delta, if infected there is “limited difference” in the viral load between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, according to Public Health England (PHE).
PHE commented, “The vaccine is less effective against Delta than against some other variants, but there are even more evasive variants around in the world.”
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiology professor at Reading University, told Sky News that if vaccination “only blocks transmission by, say, 50 percent you’ll never get herd immunity even with a 100 per cent vaccine uptake.”
Experts have stressed the need for global surveillance, particularly of new variants, and for vaccination to bring COVID infections under control, warning of the implications of foreign travel over the summer and the return of international students to universities in the autumn.
The pandemic is global and its eradication must be global. The situation confronting the world’s population is at a crisis point. In the United States there is a massive surge of COVID-19 infections due to the spread of the Delta variant, with the seven-day moving average of daily new cases rocketing by over 500 percent.
Israel, one of the world’s front-runners in COVID-19 vaccinations, is reinstating restrictions and warning of a fresh lockdown as serious cases surge. Hospitals could be close to capacity within 20 days based on the current trajectory of the virus. Cases in Australia, touted as a success story in blocking the spread of COVID, are surging.
The working class must take matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their livelihoods. Workers’ rank-and-file action committees must be formed independently of the trade unions and ruling-class parties, complicit in the pandemic catastrophe, to impose measures which protect the well-being of society and not the profit interests of the rich.
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