The UK government, battling a new deadly coronavirus variant, needs a long term plan focused on reducing transmission to avoid future lockdowns, an Indian-origin scientist said on Sunday. Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist from Queen Mary University, said although vaccines were “critical”, even once the top four priority groups are vaccinated there will still be many more vulnerable groups who will not have received a vaccine by mid-February.
“It’s really worrying this rhetoric that vaccines are this end point that will allow us to open up society when the majority of people will not be protected from infection,” she told the BBC. “We need a long term plan so that once restrictions are eased we don’t end up exactly in the situation [of] needing yet another lockdown.” She added that this included an effective test-and-trace system and quarantine measures at borders.
The UK has recorded more than 3 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 80,000 deaths, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday. The country reported 1,325 coronavirus-related fatalities on Friday — its highest ever daily increase in deaths.
Health officials faced a deadly start to 2021 as the new coronavirus variant, first detected in the UK, has spread fast across the nation.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” on Friday, warning that hospitals in the country’s capital were close to being overrun.
Scientists think the new variant of the disease is more “transmissible”, possibly because each infected individual produces more of the actual virus sometimes referred to as the viral load. Meanwhile, the UK government has announced that regular rapid testing for people without coronavirus symptoms will be made available across England this week.
The London borough of Bexley sits on the border of London and Kent – which have both been hard hit by the new variant – and is one of the areas which will be involved in the programme. The borough’s director of public health, Dr Anjan Ghosh, said the use of rapid tests was a useful tool to enable quick detection of cases in order to break the chain of transmission.
However, he said it was “not a solution in itself” and had to be combined with other measures such as social distancing and wearing face coverings. Ghosh told BBC Radio 4 that there had been strong demand for asymptomatic testing in Bexley, with all the slots available this week already booked up. The number of infections recorded in the UK has now been above the 50,000-mark for 12 consecutive days.
Higher cases inevitably mean more hospitalisations and more deaths.
The most recent figures show that, on average, 894 people per day are now dying within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, up from 438 at the start of December.
The spike in cases since Christmas means that figure is almost certain to get worse before the most recent lockdown measures can start to have any effect, according to media reports.