I’ve written a piece for Mail+ praising Boris for deciding not to impose further restrictions at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. This could be a turning point, I argue.
It was the first time a decision about whether to lock down had been made based on real-world data, as opposed to the gloomy predictions of the Sage modellers.
Last week, the UK Health Security Agency – the successor agency to Public Health England – said the number of new daily Covid infections from the Omicron variant had reached 200,000 a day. These figures just hadn’t shown up yet in the Government’s coronavirus dashboard because of reporting delays.
In fact, that number was an estimate based on Sage modelling which, as usual, turned out to be overly pessimistic. In the past seven days, the number of daily Covid cases by specimen date peaked at 102,297 on December 15th, and yesterday, the number of newly reported cases was 91,743. Meanwhile, the UKHSA has quietly withdrawn the 200,000 figure.
We cannot say for certain that daily cases won’t tick up again over Christmas, which is why Boris Johnson has been careful not to rule out any further restrictions. But the data from Gauteng province in South Africa, the centre of the Omicron outbreak, shows cases falling sharply in the past week. That suggests the new variant burns out quite quickly as it runs out of new people to infect.
On Sunday, this prompted South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid, which is similar to Sage, to recommend that the quarantining of contacts and all contact tracing be halted with immediate effect.
One of the reasons our Government’s scientific advisers have been so gloomy is because the Sage modelling teams have assumed that Omicron is as deadly as the Delta variant, but the data from other countries, including South Africa, implies it’s less likely to result in severe disease or death.
For instance, new data from Denmark suggest Omicron is 60 per cent less likely to result in hospital admission than infections from previous variants.
That might explain why Covid hospitalisations have not been significantly increasing in the UK, in spite of the rise in case numbers, and why they’re falling in South Africa.
Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty have warned of 3,000 new hospital admissions a day if further restrictions aren’t introduced – a figure Sajid Javid quoted in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting when arguing for more severe measures. But on Saturday, just 900 people were admitted to hospital with Covid, not much higher than the 865 daily average for the previous seven days.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Boris has confirmed that no new Covid restrictions will be brought in before Christmas, although he hasn’t ruled out some changes to the rules immediately after Christmas. BBC News has more.
In a video clip released on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “What I can say tonight, is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.
But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.
We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press 2: Philip Thomas, a Professor at Bristol University, writes in the Daily Mail his Covid model has consistently got it right and it’s telling him there’s no need for another lockdown.
Stop Press 3: Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph says we should be able to get through the Omicron outbreak without any further restrictions.