Experts and health professionals on the current rise in COVID infections in Europe, what it means for the UK, and what happens with children.
First published in November 2021.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on the pandemic not being over yet.
Dr Joe Pajak, PhD in physical chemistry, Governor of an NHS FT hospital:
“You’d be forgiven for thinking that the pandemic reawakened last week. In fact, it never went to sleep.
“Boris Johnson’s Freedom Day on July 19 created a dangerous illusion that the pandemic was over. This feeling of complacency was aided by ending the regular Covid press briefings, by parliament’s summer recess, the scramble for foreign holidays, party conferences, the lack of published detail from SAGE meetings, Brexit concerns and endless diversions across the media.
“Now, with data reaching levels not seen for months, Covid-19 is firmly back on the agenda.”
Professor Lawrence Young, Virologist, Professor of Molecular Oncology, Biomedical Sciences, Warwick University:
“If current levels of infection and hospitalisations in England continue or rise even further, we will have no option but to limit virus transmission by introducing some form of vaccine passport, alongside re-introducing compulsory facemasks in crowded, poorly ventilated indoors spaces. These are minor inconveniences that could really help us through the winter months alongside the continued rollout of booster vaccinations.”
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Professor John Edmunds, Epidemiologist, Professor in the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
“There’s a risk because of waning immunity in older individuals – and that’s all adults, not just the elderly – that cases could really take off. It’s really important that we boost immunity in older individuals and then we might be able to avoid any significant fourth wave.
“We’re going to have high levels of infection for many months, so I think the NHS will unfortunately be under significant strain. It may not get to breaking point, where we were close to before, but significant strain for a very long period of time is certainly on the cards.”
“There are still many millions of people here in the UK who have not been fully vaccinated – it’s essential now.
“What you see now, particularly in central Europe, with this very rapid increase in cases, [is] the importance of vaccination, how critical it is that people who need their boosters should come forward as rapidly as possible and get vaccinated.
“Those who are still unvaccinated – and there are many unfortunately out there – should come forward and be vaccinated as rapidly as possible.
“[The current surge in Europe] shows how quickly things can go wrong. I am concerned about waning immunity. The booster doses, it is pretty clear, do give a clear boost to your immune system, which may last some considerable time, so I think it’s really essential that the booster doses are rolled out as fast as possible.”
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Dr Zoë Hyde, Epidemiologist & biostatistician, Western Australia Centre for Health & Ageing, University of Western Australia:
“There’s mounting evidence that the hospitalisations and deaths that result from the acute phase of COVID-19 are only the tip of the iceberg.
“I strongly suspect that countries that allow the virus to spread will experience a larger, secondary epidemic of chronic disease.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on the situation in Europe.
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe:
“Covid-19 has become once again the number one cause of mortality in our region. We know what needs to be done.
“Vaccines are our most powerful asset – if used alongside other tools. Reliable projections show that if we achieved 95% universal mask use in Europe and central Asia, we could save up to 188,000 lives of the half a million lives we may lose before February 2022.
“Testing, contact tracing, ventilation in indoor spaces and physical distancing remain part of our arsenal of defences, next to the rapid, fair and generalized uptake of vaccines by everyone eligible.
“These are tried and tested measures that enable lives to continue while controlling the virus and avoiding widespread, damaging lockdowns.
“We must change our tactics from reacting to surges of COVID-19 to preventing them from happening in the first place.”
Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and former SAGE member:
“What is happening across Europe will happen globally in coming and months – with impact dependent on access to tests, treatment, vaccines, PPE, oxygen, and health systems.
“Important to observe, learn and plan globally.
“Worrying with such inequity in access to all these tools for the UK and EU transmission today, and the rest of the world tomorrow. With its impact defined by access to tests, treatment, vaccines, PPE, oxygen, health systems and political decision making.”
Professor Andrew Hayward, co-director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag):
“What I know is, every winter since records began respiratory infections have increased during the winter, and hospitalisations and deaths peak in the winter, and I don’t particularly see a reason why Covid would be different from that.
“If we can get the most vulnerable people revaccinated with a booster, we can make a substantial impact on that.
“We’ve got over 8,000 people in hospital with Covid, nearly a thousand of them on ventilators. We have, compared to Europe, far lower numbers of hospital beds available to put people in, so we are on a bit of a knife edge here with Covid.
“But when you add in all the other respiratory infections that come in the winter when we’ve got high levels of population mixing, when you add in that huge [patient] backlog, the NHS is already in serious trouble. So I think we do need to be prepared to take action.”
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Professor Stephen Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology, School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) subcommittee on behavioural science:
“As European countries see acute spikes in Covid case numbers, they are all taking urgent action to reduce infections.
“We are different in the UK. We do nothing. Which is why we are also different in having chronic rather than acutely high levels of infection.
“Over 3 million cases in the last three months.
Over 6,000 people in hospital with Covid every day of the last three months.
Over 10,000 deaths in the last three months. More than a planeload a day.
“So why does our Government sit on its hands while all others take action?
Don’t they think that our lives matter?”
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WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY...
... on COVID-19 and children.
Dr Christian Yates, Senior Lecturer in Mathematical Biology, University of Bath:
“What will we tell our kids when this is all over?
“We asked you to sacrifice so much then and we didn’t even do the most basic things to decrease your chances of catching covid.
“Kids are being let down so badly.”
Dr Zubaida Haque, Commissioner in the Hamilton Commission, former Interim Director of the Runnymede Trust, founding member of Independent SAGE:
“Our vaccination policy in England (single jab for teenagers and no jab for children between 5-11) doesn’t just mean that children under 15 are now excluded from Disney cruises; it also means that teenagers are excluded from entering many countries without quarantining for 10 days.”
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology, Statistical Genetics, Machine Learning, Queen Mary University of London:
“For the “we’ve reached herd immunity in kids, and infections have peaked” crowd: unfortunately, this isn’t true. It’s the usual half-term related drop that is reversing. The trends are clear in many places, and early rises being seen in England. This is expected but very worrying.
“Early signs that cases may be rising in England again: age-breakdowns are not yet available, but this is likely to be related to schools re-opening following half-term.
“Cases are still sky high in children and likely to rise more now that schools have re-opened. Is the government going to continue to do nothing in the hope that most children will get infected, and ‘herd immunity’ will be achieved? This is a dangerous and deeply unethical strategy.
“It’s a plan that is leading to increasing numbers of long COVID, and deaths in children. Long COVID has shown massive increases in these age groups in every ONS report that has come out recently – from 53,000 in October to 69,000 in November – for symptoms lasting 4 weeks, a 30% increase.
“ONS deaths (certified as involving COVID-19) show higher numbers of child deaths occurring each week now, compared to before.
“These numbers – long COVID and deaths will continue to rise unless the government acts to protect children and families. It is also clear from the pre-half-term rise, and this rise was followed by increase in cases in other groups, followed by a rise in hospitalisations and deaths.
“With the NHS at breaking point, it is essential we get on top of transmission quickly. Mitigations in schools, faster vaccination of children, approval for 5 to 11-year olds, return of mask mandates, isolation of contacts, booster doses – all vital.
“None of this is unforeseen. It was entirely predictable, as were all the calls of “stop fearmongering”, “the pandemic is over”, as soon as cases started predictably declining. Yet half-term which could have been used to put mitigations in schools was completely wasted.”
— AUTHORS —
▫ PMP News reporting.
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- Text: This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 22 November 2021.
- Cover: Adobe Stock/Bihlmayerfotografie.