I felt some angst when BJ announced initial relaxation of lock-down two or three weeks back – the disease was still very active and surely the decline was because of lock-down and not coincidental. Immunisation has largely extinguished many serious infectious diseases but that is because of and not despite the vaccines. Brighton’s slightly alternative population means a lower uptake than in many areas and a few years back there was a little cluster of measles cases showing that the lid can burst open given half a chance.Nevertheless the government mantra was that all decisions were based on scientific advice and SAGE and its subgroups has some wise and well informed members so that was reassuring.
I thought I was shielding until the end of June….until last weekend when it was suddenly announced that even the two million or so of us deemed at high risk of severe illness can take the latch off the front door and venture out once a day albeit adhering to the guidelines. I can wash my hands, wear a mask etc but it takes two to tango and also to socially distance so there’s the first potential flaw. And there are still around 2000 new cases reported daily in the UK – almost certainly a significant underestimate as some are asymptomatic and others simply don’t get tested. So why the sudden change?
Maybe it’s a sympathy move as the mood music from the shielded was of feeling forgotten and ignored and so BJ et al felt an olive branch of a daily toddle and a bit of human contact would soothe our pain. You don’t need to be on SAGE to realise that’s no grounds for a decision. And here’s the rub – members of SAGE have expressed doubts about aspects of the relaxation policy. Here’s a taster of three: Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust “Covid-19 is spreading too fast to lift the lockdown in England”, Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College “near unanimity among scientists in unlocking carrying real risks”. Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stated that this was a political and not a scientific decision. And all four UK Chief Medical Officers rejected BJs line of decreased viral threat and Chris Witty, the England CMO, said he’d vetoed the Government dropping the risk level from 4 to 3. I’m relieved that my anxieties are not unfounded and don’t reflect lockdown induced paranoia but equally even more concerned that once again the Government have “had enough of experts” and opted for their own route map.
Indeed it was quite entertaining to watch Dominic Raab ducking and weaving more than Frank Bruno ever did as Andrew Marr had him on the ropes. We are at Level 4 on the Governments’s own chart said Marr but we start relaxation at Level 3 – DR gets up on the count of eight explaining that we are transitioning from 4 to 3 so it’s OK to start. Mmmmm? And interestingly he didn’t specifically say they were following the science but took “independent advice” – who from – maybe that well-informed addendum to SAGE aka Dominic Cummings? But the gall – asked how many have so far been tracked and traced he had no answer but still stated that our system was world-beating!! Good job I took the toilet break before the programme started or I might have been wetting myself by now. Marr then asks him to spell out the special exclusion clauses in the guidelines as per DC lest we need to pursue these and guess what – nothing is proffered. Dominic’s trainer would surely throw in the towel at this stage.
Excuse my cynicism but I perceive a DC effect. There has been great worry that the general public will simply follow his example and do their own thing regardless of government guidelines. I suspect that this is a BJ pre-empt, a sweetener partly to detract from DC as a headline but also to assuage the public wrath. There has been increasing concern in medical circles that sugar and not fat is the arch criminal in cardiovascular disease. Perhaps BJ needs to be warned that too much metaphorical sweetener can potentially damage your health as well.
And what will this mean for the future of this government which is already under serious scrutiny as having mismanaged many aspects of the corona outbreak? If ploughing their own furrow in the face of medical and scientific advice should result in a significant resurgence of cases and deaths and even a second lockdown then could there be irreversible loss of public confidence in the competence of BJ and his team?