Friday 6 August 2021
With coronavirus cases and hospitalisations both falling in the UK… could we really have sent Covid packing?
Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker from tortoisemedia.com
One story every day to make sense of the world.
With cases and hospitalisations both falling… has the UK finally sent Covid packing?
“Hi everyone, I just wanted to update you all that I’ve tested positive for Covid. I was feeling a bit groggy last night so I took a lateral flow test this morning, and it’s come out positive.”Sajid Javid on catching Covid
When the health secretary Sajid Javid caught Covid ahead of ‘Freedom Day’ – the day that nearly all restrictions were lifted in England – it seemed a little… ominous.
At the time Covid was on the march.
From the start of July to reopening day, infections nearly doubled from 23,000 to 42,000.
And even Sajid Javid was warning that Covid really could run rampant.
“As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly. And they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers.”Sajid Javid in radio interview
But what has happened is quite the opposite.
Nightclubs have reopened. Pubs are at full service. And no one has to wear masks anymore.
But infections have more than halved in two weeks.
It’s the first time Covid cases have dropped in a sustained way outside of a national lockdown.
And it’s left plenty of people scratching their heads.
So, how has this happened?
And does it mean that the course of the pandemic in the UK has shifted for good?
[Clip of fans singing at Wembley]
Just a few weeks ago England was at fever pitch.
More than 60,000 people watched the men’s football team get to the Euro 2020 final at Wembley… and everyone was trying to put lingering fears about Covid to the back of their mind.
Because even though more than two-thirds of people in the UK had got a dose of the Covid vaccine, there was still a lot of risk.
Cases were rising; plenty of Brits were unvaccinated or only partly vaccinated; and the prospect of a new variant on the horizon, for some, was a looming threat.
We’ve seen this story before. Restrictions relax, then the disease returns with a vengeance.
But this hasn’t happened. Covid cases have been falling for weeks.
And hospital admissions are down, too.
It’s puzzling loads experts.
“It’s a very very very strange thing, and no one really knows the answer at the moment I’m afraid.”
“I don’t know that most of us were expecting to see that.”Disease experts speaking on TV
So what’s going on?
Here are some factors to explain what’s happening.
1. Up until the past few days, the weather has been pretty nice. When it’s hot, more people meet up outside. Which makes it harder for Covid to spread.
2. The football is over. It seems that was causing cases to spike, because more men were being infected than women. When the competition was done, it dampened the spread of the disease.
3. A ridiculous number of people have been asked to self-isolate in the past few weeks. In a single week in July, over a million children in England were out of school.
4. There are really high levels of protection in the UK. Nearly 94 per cent of people in England have antibodies against Covid, either through vaccination or infection.
But there’s one more thing that might help explain what’s going on, and perhaps it’s the most crucial.
“Coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19 July to life as it was before Covid.”Boris Johnson reopening press conference
Sajid Javid’s warning a few weeks ago had a higher purpose: to influence behaviour.
When the government’s scientific advisory group modelled what would happen when England reopened, it presented different scenarios depending on how people acted.
And the hospital admissions we’re seeing now? Well, they fit with what the model predicted if we all only slowly returned to normal.
According to Google data at the end of July, footfall in indoor spaces like restaurants, cafes and cinemas is still 17 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. People aren’t jumping back into “normal” life like it used to be.
And footfall in safer outdoor spaces like parks. It’s 52 per cent above what we saw before Covid.
When you combine that with high immunity levels, what’s happening begins to make sense.
So is the UK really over the worst of Covid? It’s still too early to say for sure.
We have an autumn ahead of us – where plenty could change for the worse.
More people will be indoors, the country might have relaxed their behaviour a bit more, and immunity could start to fade in those who were infected or vaccinated a while ago.
But the data shows we’re on the right path.
A small miracle, when people expected a scenario far worse than the one we’re seeing now.
Rather than being a sign of things to come, Sajid Javid testing positive for Covid might end up being one of the endnotes of the deadliest phase of Covid – in the UK at least.
Today’s episode was written and produced by Xavier Greenwood.