PROFESSOR CARL HENEGHAN: I’m a frontline GP, and I don’t think we’re overwhelmed by Covid
Already grappling with the normal tide of winter illnesses in our hospital wards, we now find ourselves plagued by even more frightening projections of serious illness and death.
And alongside these huge but mostly unreliable numbers comes the threat of further restrictions and controls.
Today there are new lockdown demands from those who believe the Covid-19 removal trumps all other human endeavors. Still, attempts to shut down the company make no sense, especially since they are at odds with actual experience on the ground.
A true description of where we are now is more nuanced and – overwhelmingly – more optimistic than the forecasts suggest.
CARL HENEGHAN: Already grappling with the normal tide of winter illnesses in our hospital wards, we now find ourselves struck by even more frightening projections of serious illness and death.
First, our situation is totally different from what we found ourselves in at this time last year, when we were put into emergency lockdown. Not only do we have the vaccines and the enormous protection they offer, but we have a growing number of antiviral drugs, some of which are up to 90% effective for infected patients.
There has also been a substantial reduction in serious illnesses. If we go back to this time last year, there were over 19,000 hospital patients with 2,000 daily admissions. Those numbers have more than halved, with a total of 7,600 patients and 900 daily admissions.
We have to rely on the fact that, despite their detail and clarity, disturbing mathematical models have systematically surprised reality.
For example, the modeling used to justify Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s claim that we are already seeing 200,000 new Omicron infections per day has now been scrapped by health officials.
Additional modeling has been criticized for not taking into account evidence from South Africa that shows Omicron causes fewer deaths and hospitalizations, even among the oldest and most vulnerable than previous versions of the virus .
Much of the apparent increase in Covid cases is actually linked to a significant increase in the number of tests. On December 7, Britain performed around a million tests. As of December 15, that number had risen to 1.63 million, an increase of nearly two-thirds in eight days.
During this time, the true infection rate, as judged by the PCR testing system, remained largely constant.
It is also reassuring that vaccines may hold up well (although it is true that protection will weaken over time).
CARL HENEGHAN: I am a general practitioner as well as an epidemiologist and I spent yesterday morning visiting urgent cases in the elderly. Yes it was busy, but busy with many normal breathing issues we face this time of year
I am a general practitioner as well as an epidemiologist and I spent the morning yesterday visiting urgent cases in the elderly. Yes, it was busy, but busy with many of the normal breathing issues we face this time of year.
We didn’t feel like we were overwhelmed by Covid. Coronaviruses are seasonal in the northern hemisphere, as are several other respiratory pathogens, so it should come as no surprise that hospital admissions are high.
It would no doubt help politicians and their advisers see the reality of the NHS frontline, instead of listening to discussion groups and looking at charts. In the real world, it is clear that people have changed their behavior in response to the change in the number of cases and the advice they have received. Analysis of the movement of people shows that retail activity is down 25 percent in Greater London. The use of public transport and the frequentation of the workplace are down by 40%.
This is one of the reasons that inflated projections so quickly become obsolete – without continuous adjustment, they are deceptive.
At some point, you will recognize that you can trust people to understand and manage their own risks. However, we must be aware of the threat to the most vulnerable and the pressure on the health service.
Now we need to be flexible in our approach to the winter outbreak of respiratory viruses. If we’re going to be spending time with vulnerable seniors, then yes, get tested, talk to them about the risks, and discuss with them what choice they want to do.
But if we are to be trusted to lead our own lives, we need accurate data – and it is scarce.
We are still not able to say for sure who is sick in the hospital or for what reason. How many elderly patients are there not because they are sick but because there is a shortage of beds in the care sector? How many are in the daily Covid numbers?
CARL HENEGHAN: The virus will continue to evolve and what matters now is our ability to face risk and leave blockages behind
Holding the government accountable for producing accurate information is a priority.
The virus will continue to evolve and what matters now is our ability to cope with risk and break out of lockdowns.
We have learned from the experience of Wales and Scotland, which used more restrictive measures, that these measures did not prevent illness, hospitalization or death. They did not prevent the inevitable winter climb.
Everywhere we look, there is uncertainty. And you have to learn to live with that. We cannot seek endless protection against unknown risks. Yet too many people in positions of authority refuse to accept this.
They seek to create an illusion of certainty, often relying on frightening statistics, the result of which could be a perpetual cycle of blockages. After two years, we can’t have more of the same. We cannot continue to ignore the harms and divisions caused by the closure of society – illness and death on the other side of Covid’s toll – or the fact that those who suffer most from the closure of the economy are the young and the poor.
Conviviality is at the heart of our well-being, and by destroying it we risk tearing the very fabric of society apart.