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Observer’s perspective on Boris Johnsons Covid roadmap announcement | Coronavirus




Let’s use data, not dates, the government’s deputy chief medical adviser Angela McLean told MPs on Thursday as she was asked about the right framework for the non-lockdown roadmap. Tomorrow is the long-awaited day when the Prime Minister sets out his plan and it is clear that he and his medical advisers disagree. Both have seen very encouraging data, the number of reported cases is dropping sharply, as are hospitalizations and deaths. Last week’s Imperial Colleges React 1 study showed that infections in England had dropped by two-thirds in less than a month. The rate R is now estimated at between 0.6 and 0.9, well below 1.0 above which the virus spreads exponentially. Public Health England has initial data suggesting that the success of vaccination is starting to impact the transmission of Covids.

What is generating debate is how much this encouraging data can inform pre-announced easing dates over the coming months. The answer, beyond March 8, is not at all with McLeans boss Chris Whitty reportedly upset that Johnson insists action dates should frame decision-making, even if they are cautioned by the way the data evolves. Instead, data should be the alpha and omega of the whole process.

There is one area of ​​agreement. Extrapolating the trends to March 8 means that even cautious scientists recognize the risks of opening primary schools, taking over nursing homes, reopening socially distant outdoor sports such as the golf and tennis, and meeting a person in the open air, outside the bubbles, are very slow. The Booster Prime Minister will be allowed to announce some, if not all of these measures as good news. The problem is what lies beyond.

Enslaved to a vocal libertarian right, Johnson then wants to announce, two or three weeks apart, trigger dates for decisions under the banner of a cautious but irreversible relaxation, so that at the beginning of the summer, the country is saving for continued social distancing and mask wearing will return to semi-normal. According to this schedule, non-essential stores would open at the end of March; hospitality outside of Easter; universities and all schools after Easter; and further relaxation to allow pubs and restaurants to open in early May. The conservative right will rejoice, but the country is the constituency, not a wing of its party. The approach of easing by trigger dates is wrong.

The disagreement isn’t whether this has to be the last lockdown: everyone wants it. The social, educational, economic and mental health costs are all known to us. Everyone would like any act of loosening between opening schools and freer socialization inside to be irreversible as well, but this is where a bitter disagreement arises. Johnson cannot promise this will be the last lockdown under the excuse that the pre-announced dates are only indicative and will not trigger an easing if the data suggests otherwise. Doctors know Johnson is unable to withstand pressure from his party’s right-wing and the pre-announcement of dates invites a repeat of the mistakes that have led Britain to have some of the highest Covid death rates in the world.

Instead, the PM is expected to say the data will favor a loosening of the lockdown, which cannot be irreversible if trends suddenly turn unfavorable. He will be guided at all times by the advice of the Joint Biosafety Center on appropriate alert levels, and stick to one overriding goal, rather than changing goals based on political demands. The Blair Foundation suggests only one goal makes sense: to keep the R rate below 1.0 and the reported cases stable or declining. The right approach is to aim for that goal, with the government nimble enough to preemptively tighten, the data shows, or relax sooner if improvements are lasting.

Despite the success of vaccination, too much is still unknown. It may be true that by the end of April almost every 50-year-old will be vaccinated and those under 50 will be healthy only 0.94% deaths in 2020. But we still don’t know how much and for how long vaccines provide protection, how fast the vaccination program will run, how fast mutations spread and whether they are resistant to vaccines, and even the extent to which vaccines can spread the disease. The Johnsonian boosterism in this context is crazy.

The good news, beyond the immunization program, is that the test and trace system starts to work well. People are now contacted on average within 78 hours of being near a Covid carrier, up from 120 hours in the fall. Coming out of lockdown, local government and the NHS now have access to data, test results, and a functional testing and tracing system that would allow the prioritization system to work in a way it did not fall, especially if there was financial compensation for those who had to isolate themselves. It is high time that the Treasury modeled the costs of not encouraging compliance and the spread of the virus, rather than worrying about the costs of time off.

The sooner the virus is under control, the better the economic outlook. This is a critical moment. Lives and a sustained economic recovery, capitalizing on the success of vaccination, depend on the Prime Minister putting data before dates, sticking to the clearest goals and releasing step by step secure as indicated alert levels. Its scientists and doctors know these truths. It is time they back them up with resignations if they fear being ignored. Too much suffering, deprivation and death are at stake for any other action.

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