Colin Brazier: Our focus should be on vaccines - not lockdowns or creating a two-tier society

A week is a long time in Covid politics. After 18 consecutive days of rising cases, we’ve at least two days of falling cases.

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The BBC were on a Covid ward this morning, interviewing patients. It wasn’t easy listening. “I’m angry.” Said one man, who was very obviously struggling to breathe. “People should be wearing masks”.

That was the same message I got last night, when I spoke to a senior SAGE member, and unquestionably one of Britain’s most respected epidemiologists, Professor John Edmunds. Mask wearing was, he said, a sensible measure that the government ought to have persisted with. Scientists have come in for a lot of stick over the last year and a half, so credit to Professor Edmunds.

He’s a fan of restrictions, even as his own modelling seems to have altered the whole balance of the argument about them. At least for the remainder of this year. This will have come as a shock to Labour, which only three days ago backed the immediate restoration of lockdown-lite.

The party seems to have taken a lead from Matthew Taylor, a former advisor to Tony Blair and now chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

He’s only been in the job for a few months and made headlines last week when he demanded the reintroduction of mandatory masks and working from home. Seven days ago he said: “We are right on the edge – and it is the middle of October. It would require an incredible amount of luck for us not to find ourselves in the midst of a profound crisis over the next three months.”

Well, it seems we’ve had the slice of luck that Matthew Taylor thought incredible. Last Tuesday, the UK reported 223 covid deaths, the highest number for seven months. Daily cases seemed to be heading towards 50,000 a day and beyond. But a week is a long time in covid politics. After 18 consecutive days of rising cases, we’ve at least two days of falling cases.

Today's figures actually went up, but that was a technical glitch caused by data collection in Wales. But what really makes Matthew Taylor’s intervention seem ill-timed is the latest modelling, for which we have Professor Edmunds of SAGE to thank.

It suggests infections will fall rapidly in the next few weeks. Other, unpublished models, confirm this, suggesting the number of cases could be as low as 5,000 by Christmas. Matthew Taylor’s not the first person to demand a lockdown, only to be made to look foolish by a change in the data. At least he can plead prudence.

Those parts of the NHS he speaks for can be forgiven for wanting to blunt any winter covid surge. But the alacrity with which Labour took up his warning smacks of opportunism. Playing politics with covid is a mug’s game.

As Professor Robert Dingwall says in an article today there are 12,000 deaths in the UK every week, of which about 800 to a thousand are covid related. But more importantly, the number of cases is not a great guide to where we are either.

Something like 40,000 new cases are being reported every day, but as Professor Dingwall makes clear, this tells us nothing about the severity of infection.

He writes: “Most of these results come from people who are either vaccinated or in groups that are at low risk of severe infection, such as teenagers. A positive test in October 2021 does not have the same meaning as a positive test in January 2021.”

But here’s the kicker. Most covid admissions are now for patients who are seriously, but not critically sick. For that we have the vaccine programme to thank.

Let me take you back to where I started, the item on the BBC this morning from a hospital where patients were angrily demanding the return of mandatory masks. In another part of the hospital were the patients who couldn’t speak, who couldn’t complain about masks, because they were all on ventilators and all fighting for their lives.

A doctor explained why this was. They were unvaccinated. That’s where our focus should be, not on imposing another unnecessary lockdown or raving that people who don’t wear masks are social pariahs. That’s the Brazier Angle.