On September 13 last year, 2,129 Covid cases were recorded in the UK. On the same date this year, the last for which figures are available, there were 8,590 for the most recent five days, though the figure is incomplete.
The death figure for the most recent five days on the same date last year (for within 28 days of a test) was 16. This year, it was 22 – again, an incomplete figure.
As for patients admitted to hospital, the comparable figures are 203 for September 9 last year and 1009 on the same date this year (the last for which figures are available).
These statistics should be treated with caution. Covid will not be a contributor to the passing of all those who die within 28 days of a test. And the number of those who enter a hospital tells one nothing about how quickly they leave it.
All the same, the figures do tell us something – and, in the instance of the higher case numbers, nothing especially alarming, because the context is different.
Last year, the vaccination programme hadn’t been deployed. This year, it has. Eighty per cent of over-16s are now double jabbed. The Prime Minister said yesterday that “we have Covid antibodies in around 90 per cent of the adult population”.
Fewer masks, less home working and social distancing, more mixing – all speed the spread of Covid which, in a properly vaccinated population, is a good thing, because it takes us all a step nearer herd immunity (or should do).
Why, then, the higher deaths (a week ago these were in three figures, though the number has since fallen)? Sajid Javid is in no doubt about the answer.
“The latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that almost 99 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in the first half of this year were people who had not received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine,” he told the Commons yesterday.
“Almost six million people over the age of 16 remain unvaccinated in the UK, and the more people there are who are unvaccinated the larger the holes in our collective defences.”
Hence Ministers’ attempts to raise the number of those vaccinated, the booster jabs plan, school testing and the hokey-cokey, covered recently by Henry Hill on this site, over vaccine passports – the unspoken aim of which would be to raise the vaccination rate.
When the Health Secretary mentioned “collective defences”, he will have been thinking not only of saving lives but of reducing hospitalisations.
Almost three quarters of people under 50 who needed hospital treatment for the Covid in England as the month began were unvaccinated, it was reported.
Javid and Johnson’s nightmare, not to mention everyone else’s, is still longer queues for NHS treatment – as hospitals, overwhelmed by Covid and flu cases, postpone further those delayed hip operations, other elective surgery, cancer treatment: the lot…
…Followed swiftly by a clamour from NHS managers for yet another lockdown. This threat lies behind yesterday’s relatively minor programme of adaptations to more Covid if necessary: more compulsory mask-wearing, more working from home, and so on.
How would the public react to yet another shutdown, and the reversal of progress towards normality – including economic normality, of course?
Polls have shown support for restrictive measures during the past 18 months, even if people have sometimes honoured them more in the breach than the observance.
But lockdowns before the mass vaccination programme were one thing; shutdowns after most people have been jabbed might be quite another.
Either way, Ministers should be more resistant to calls for new shutdowns from senior NHS managers than they have been to pressure for more money.
Much depends on those ambiguous hospitalisation figures: remember how it was claimed in July that a quarter of patients registered as hospitalised because of Covid actually had another cause of admission.
At any rate, the danger is that what was once exceptional becomes the norm – and that, when under the NHS is under pressure, lockdowns become an early resort rather than the last one.
The irony is that Zero Covid supporters and anti-vax campaigners, the extremities of opinion on how to respond to the virus, are mutually boosting the prospect of lockdowns.
Anti-vaxers encourage people not to have the jab. Which leads to more hospitalisations. The Zero Coviders then agitate for lockdowns – to “save the NHS” and eliminate the virus altogether. It isn’t the first unlikely pairing and won’t be the last.