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Lockdown to Infinity and Beyond

The problem with Boris Johnson’s roadmap to freedom is that there is only one road out, we don’t know if he can read a map (or even who supplied it), someone else may be driving and we’ve stumbled at the first roadblock: Limited supply. If the only route out of lockdown depends on the success of the vaccine rollout, the effectiveness of vaccines, the impact of infection rates on hospital pressures and whether emergence of new variants increase risk - all variables over which Boris Johnson has no control – then we will forever remain hostages to political posturing and supply-chain issues involving 86 suppliers in 19 countries around the world.

The R number, following the science, the vaccine rollout – these are not tools to get us out of lockdown, but excuses to keep us in. If this is not the case, then why - when according to Chris Whitty 90% of the 99% most vulnerable (over 50s and those with serious underlying health issues) have been vaccinated - are we still in lockdown? Why was lockdown imposed four days after COVID-19 was downgraded and no longer considered a ‘high consequence infectious disease’?

Believing the vaccines will lead us out of lockdown depends on a single, flawed premise; that the government will deliver on what it promised. A government that said ‘no’ to vaccine passports while investing in companies that provide them, a government that said ‘no’ to mandatory vaccination yet is now trying to enshrine this into law for care home workers and a government that promised to ease restrictions once the most vulnerable had been vaccinated.

If Boris Johnson truly was following the science we’d be out of lockdown by now. With 25 million vaccinated, 4 million believed to have had Covid-19 (and therefore immunity) and 30-50% of the population with prior immunity from T-cell memory of past coronaviruses, we are well beyond herd immunity. Johnson knows this. He also knows that T-cell tests for prior immunity are close to being available - he invested in it. As he did with antibody testing companies which Johnson once referred to as being a ‘game changer’. Yet in spite of tour operators, airlines and holiday destinations offering travel options for all who can show immunity or a COVID-negative test, a blanket travel ban has been imposed on the UK with a £5,000 fine for anyone going to an airport without a valid reason. Travel is a valid reason.

This is not about following the science, nor the easing of lockdown. It is about control. When we were kids we drew circles in the pavement around money spiders and watched in amazement as the money spiders never crossed the line as though it was a real wall. We never tired of that game. But we always let them out. This is how it feels now. A wall of fear has been drawn around the electorate who – for multiple reasons – appear to be going along with it as though the long-term consequences are merely a distant threat on some far off horizon.

During Thursday’s Downing Street briefing, Chris Whitty explained the benefits of getting vaccinated. Not only to protect the self, but also others. However, if – according to Johnson - transmission efficacy is only at 60%, the vaccines cannot halt transmission. Some people would still contract SARS-Cov-2. But that’s okay because we are at herd immunity. Which doesn’t seem to matter to the government or their advisors. When questioned on The Andrew Marr Show, Head of Immunization for PHE Dr. Mary Ramsay echoed that getting vaccinated ‘doesn’t necessarily prevent spread’ and that we’d still be wearing masks and social distancing two years from now. She also (worryingly) added that we wouldn’t be back to normal at least until ‘other parts of the world are vaccinated as well as we are - and the numbers have come down everywhere’. So we have to wait for the rest of the world to be vaccinated and continue mask-wearing and social distancing regardless of the fact the vulnerable have all been vaccinated and that UK deaths ‘for any reason within 28 days of a positive COVID test’ stood on Monday at 17.

At the same Thursday briefing, Professor Whitty announced that for those in their fifties (the current vaccination target group) 8,000 people would need to be vaccinated in order to save one life. Eight thousand healthy people - with minimal statistical chance of even getting COVID, let alone dying from it - vaccinated to save one life. For the 0-9 year age group, it would take 1.33M to be vaccinated to save a single life; 253,667 would need to be vaccinated in the 10-19-age-group in order to save one life and for the 20-29 year olds 46,559 would need to be vaccinated in order to save a single individual. And there’s no guarantee of saving the individual if the vaccine is only 60% efficacious in regard to transmission. It’s statistical hysteria. Professor Whitty made clear that while all treatments (including aspirin) come with some risk, the benefits of taking the vaccine far outweighed the risk of getting COVID. This is not so for all age groups – certainly not a younger generation that has relatively little chance of dying from COVID-19 due to their much stronger immune systems. The chart below illustrates the unlikelihood of dying from COVID-19 for UK under 60s.

Factoring in data from the government’s Yellow Card Scheme which records adverse events and deaths (as reported by GPs and patients) the latest report (Dec 9 2020 – Mar 7 2021) shows 534 deaths shortly after a COVID-19 vaccination (237 for Pfizer, 289 for AstraZeneca and 8 unclassified), which - bearing in mind the Yellow Card Scheme accounts for only 3-5 reports per 1,000 doses and that adverse reactions may be reported more frequently in younger adults due to a much stronger immune system - suggests statistically that for the under 50’s, the benefits of vaccination do not outweigh the risks. Which is to be expected when the majority of deaths from COVID-19 are predominant in the over eighties.

While vaccine safety may be an issue, it isn’t the issue in regard to lifting lockdown. The issue is who needs vaccines the most - us or the government? The government can manipulate the vaccine rollout to extend lockdown as much and as often as it chooses, but as - in the real world - vaccinating healthy under fifties is a statistical absurdity, then lockdown could arguably be lifted sooner.

Maybe numbers are the problem.

Out of 651 MPs, only three have a degree in mathematics (Rishi Sunak isn’t one of them), which is somewhat daunting when you consider how many COVID-19 related decisions have been based on data. Especially data provided by a mathematical modeller whose modelling ineptitude was not factored into the infamous model embraced by countries throughout the world as a blueprint on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

To continue lockdown is to continue compromising the immune systems of the healthy, to elongate the queues of those awaiting cancelled operations, to pile more anxieties on the most vulnerable and depressed, to expand unemployment and poverty and to capitulate to the tyranny of the innumerate.

The one-size-fits-all policy employed from day one has failed. Though data from Italy suggested that 84% of COVID-19 deaths were largely limited to the elderly and medically vulnerable, a Prime Minister weakened by his own condition mothballed the herd immunity option and opted for lockdown, taking us all on the road to hell, no matter how well-paved with good intentions. Anyone can be forgiven for making a hasty decision in the eye of the storm, but the storm has abated and decisions can now be made with a clear head and a sharp focus.

There is a way out. Johnson could tell the EU they could have the vaccines they need to vaccinate all their vulnerable and elderly. In parallel to this (as well as available vaccinations in the UK for those who wish to have them) he could roll out a T-cell test program and blood test for all those who have previously tested positive for COVID 19 to check if they actually had COVID-19 and if they are therefore still immune. In doing so, he would reduce the anxieties of those still fearful of the disease, save jobs and businesses and avoid the inevitable pile up of human rights lawsuits which will spring up as soon as the first mandated jab goes into the first involuntary arm.

It takes two people to make a lie work; the person who tells it and the one who believes it (thank you Jodi Picoult). If - in the face of overwhelming evidence that lockdowns cause more harm than good - Johnson once again caves in to the nutty professors and extends curfew or imposes further mindless Draconian measures, then it’ll be up to us to exit lockdown – unilaterally (we learned from the master). Pubs, shops, restaurants and gyms need to open en masse – there would be plenty to support it and you can’t fine everybody. An extension to lockdown may show Johnson has learned absolutely nothing over the last year. But we can.


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