Professor Robert Dingwall, consistently the most sensible of the Government’s scientific advisors throughout the pandemic, gave a belter of an interview to Sarah Montague on the World at One earlier. The gist of it is in the headline, but a very kind reader – Stuart Robertson – has transcribed the entire interview for us which we’re republishing below.
SARAH MONTAGUE: Well, Robert Dingwall is Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University. He sits on a number of committees advising the Government on their pandemic response.
ROBERT DINGWALL: What we’re in the process of doing is managing the transition to understanding that Covid as an endemic, respiratory infection is really just like all the other 30 or so respiratory infections that humans have coexisted with forever, and that we shouldn’t be doing anything exceptional in relation to it in September, 2021, that we would not have been doing in September 2019. And that of course means taking on a lot of vested interests, it involves defusing the levels of anxiety and fear that had been generated in the population over the last 15 months or so. And that’s not, neither of those, is a straightforward task.
SM: Okay, so you have said we should stop publishing the daily numbers of cases, hospitalisations, deaths.
RD: Well the daily numbers are increasingly, increasingly meaningless. When we’re dealing with a mild respiratory infection. What is the point of knowing how much of it is there, there is out there. There is some value maybe in in tracking hospitalisations at the moment, but we’re not tracking seriously desperately ill people in the way that we were in January, they’re not progressing through to intensive care in the sorts of numbers that we saw in the spring.
SM: So is Covid now a mild respiratory infection?
RD: In a largely vaccinated population, and that’s a very important qualification. Covid is now really part of the 30 or so respiratory viruses that humans have coexisted with since time immemorial.
SM: In a largely vaccinated population, children, for example, aren’t vaccinated, I mean you have said, given the low risk of Covid for most teenagers, it’s not immoral to think that there may be better protected by natural immunity generated through infection, rather than by asking them to take the possible risk of a vaccine.
RD: Well, indeed I mean there are risks from the infection, there are risks from the vaccine, and the challenges to decide how to weigh those in the balance.
SM: In terms of the way we should be adjusting our lives, if we’re not to treat this any different than for example flu, should people stop being signed up to an app that might ping and tell them to isolate.
RD: Well, it’s very hard to see what are the benefits of that is, again, if the most vulnerable people in the population have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. And if those who are not vaccinated are confined predominantly to groups where the infection is, is a very low risk. What are we achieving by contact tracing, by isolation, by these various associated measures? Why is it relevant to me to know that somebody in my network has been infected, when I have been vaccinated?
SM: So is it time to lift all the restrictions, stop test and trace, stop bubbles in school, and of course, telling people to isolate in pubs and hospitality venues.
RD: Well I think we have to ask very hard questions about what these are now achieving, but we also need to recognise that there are significant commercial interests in prolonging things like test and trace, but from the point of view of public policy, we have to ask, well, we have never thought it was important to do differential diagnosis of schoolchildren with respiratory infections, if they’re not well enough to go to school, they don’t go to school, that’s the sort of equilibrium we need to be moving toward when the school year restarts in the autumn.
SM: Professor Robert Dingwall there.