As winter begins to encroach on our heating bills, how worried should we be about Covid?
You may not have noticed, but the UK has one of the highest rates of infection of Covid in Europe.
Compared with the big nations in Western Europe, the UK unfortunately holds the mantle with the highest numbers of infections.
But what are the contributing factors? England was the first European country to unlock, with all (bar a couple) social distancing and Covid measures being lifted on July 19th, 2021. The next country after that was Denmark in late August.
This step has only been taken in recent weeks by nations like Norway. Many other nations have kept most of their measures in place, for example, Italy and German still have restrictions on large gatherings.
So, with England having led the charge by weeks on the lifting of social distancing, it comes as no surprise that a virus that is passed via close proximity of humans has taken off ahead of the rest of Europe.
Vaccine uptake has also slowed down which has allowed for nations such as Spain, Portugal and France to take the throne of administering more doses of the vaccine than there is population of citizens.
This is in part due to the UK only just starting their vaccination of under-16s, a little behind schedule to a lot of other countries.
But has the link between catching Covid and becoming seriously ill from it been broken?
The vaccine uptake between those with serious illnesses and older people in the UK is similar to the rest of Europe, which grants a higher level of protection to the more vulnerable.
Simply put, the gap in numbers dying is similar.
Current trend shows just over 100 Covid related deaths a day in the UK, which is similar to what happens in a blad flu season for months on end.
However, death is not the only measure. The effects of ‘long Covid’ are still just as present among those who have not been seriously affect by Covid. While these effects are still being learned about it is argued that spread should be better contained.
Some experts, such as Prof Mike Tildesley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, are now questioning if there is an “acceptable” level of Covid, otherwise we will become reliant on extra measures long-term.
Covid is here to stay – we need to discuss what we are willing to live with. – Professor Mike Tildesley
Another thing to consider is that there has been a variety of approaches throughout Europe so there isn’t really a control to look at, so where we’re heading is just as important a measure as where we’ve been.
For example, in early Spring the UK had one of the lowest rates in Europe because we’d already had our Alpha wave, whereas Europe’s was in full swing.
Covid is one of those situations that can change at an unprecedented rate, whether positive or negative. The UK death rate is falling, even in a society with little to no social distancing happening and mask-wearing is not mandatory. It suggests the virus has been brought under some control, in the sense that those rapid surges of the early days should be behind us as the wider population has immunity.
As it stands, the high rates are apparent among teenagers – particularly those under 16 who haven’t had a chance over the summer to get their vaccination unlike those in the same age group in other parts of Europe.
The concern is, and always has been, that the younger population could spread the infection into the older populations, as children are the lowest at risk of becoming seriously ill off of the virus.
But there are initial indications that suggest this isn’t happening, furthermore, the rise in children may have already peaked. It shows we may be able to maintain a level of cautious optimism.
So, as winter approaches, we may actually see a continued fall in infections once the wave in teenagers comes to pass.
And this was the argument provided by the UK government and its senior scientists – Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Valance – when the decision to reopen was being floated, that we needed an ‘exit wave’ before the throes of winter fully arrived.
The problem, really, is that the NHS doesn’t have much room for even a tiny surge.
This winter, it will not just be a surge in Covid that strains the NHS.
With all the lockdowns and social distancing, the regular, common colds and flus that we encounter in daily life, especially wintertime, were largely absent, so there is less immunity among society.
For example, the beginnings of an outbreak of RSV – a virus which can cause up to 30,000 under-fives to be admitted to hospital every winter, which is six times what that age group has seen of Covid, can already be tracked and it is circulating at very high levels.
On top of that, flu season is about to begin.
How much room does the NHS have?