PROFESSOR DAVID PATON: No 10 is infected by scaremongering propaganda
PROFESSOR DAVID PATON: The fact is No 10 is infected by its scaremongering propaganda
Professor David Paton, Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has insisted that it is ‘following the science’. But if that is really still the case, then there is absolutely no justification for any delay in lifting the final lockdown restrictions beyond June 21 and returning the country to normality.
All the scientific data indicates that such a step will not lead to a dramatic surge in Covid hospitalisations or deaths, nor will the NHS be suddenly overwhelmed.
Yet even in the face of such powerful evidence, a pessimistic mood seems to prevail in Whitehall.
This week there have been reports of gloomy briefings given to the Cabinet by medical advisers amid signs that officialdom’s resistance to a nationwide reopening on June 21 is now growing, partly from fear that a third wave could be on its way.
But such extreme caution is badly misplaced. The first two waves occurred before the vaccination programme had properly started. Since then the landscape has been completely transformed, with over half the adult population having had two doses, whose effectiveness has exceeded all expectations.
Ministers told us that the vaccines were the route to freedom because they would protect the public and break the link between infections and hospitalisations. That has proved to be the reality.
Professor David Paton says No 10 extreme caution over a possible third wave is misplaced
DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place
Indeed, the contrast between the grim peak of the second wave and the vastly improved situation today is stark, despite the advent of new variants.
It is true that the number of cases is currently increasing – up from a low point at the end of April of about 19 positive tests per 100,000 people to 44 per 100,000 now – but the impact of the rise has been nothing like as devastating as previously.
NHS data shows that hospital admissions have risen somewhat from a low of 74 per day to the current average of 103 per day, yet at the peak in January we saw over 4,000 admissions on a single day.
There is even better news when it comes to the number of patients admitted to hospital in the last seven days. The latest figure of 869 is 0.6 per cent down on the previous seven-day period, and nothing like the savage January peak of 34,336.
It is the same story with death rates, which are currently averaging 5.7 per day, up from a low of 4.3 per day, but that compares to a January peak of no fewer than 1,245 deaths on a single day.
The concerns over new variants also seem to be overdone.
All over-50s could be fully vaccinated by July 1st – two weeks after ‘freedom day’
All over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21 — but it will take until September for all adults to have had two jabs, MailOnline analysis can reveal
All over-50s in England could be fully protected against Covid by July 1 — nearly two weeks after ‘freedom day on June 21 — but it will take until September for all adults to have had two jabs, MailOnline analysis can reveal.
The figures will boost calls for the Government to delay opening up all restrictions on June 21 for a fortnight in order to ensure the most vulnerable members of society have all had time for both doses to have had an effect.
And it comes amid claims that science chiefs Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have spooked No10 into pushing back plans for June 21’s ‘Freedom Day’ total unlocking citing fears of a third wave.
Experts say the vaccine forecast supports the case for a delay in reopening because one dose of vaccine can be as little as 30 per cent effective against the Indian coronavirus variant that is now dominant in the UK.
Cases are currently rising by around 40 per cent a week and new infections will be well above 15,000 a day by June 21, although it remains to be seen if the full vaccination of older Britons will keep hospital occupancy low.
But opponents of a postponement believe the vaccines have successfully broken the link between cases and hospitalisations, and argue the economic cost of a delay would be greater than that caused by a third wave this summer.
MailOnline analysis of official figures shows all people aged 50 and above could all of had their second vaccine dose by June 17, with a full immune response coming two weeks later.
But over-16s will not have received by their final inoculation until September 14, fueling concerns a surge in Covid infections caused by the Indian variant will result in a spike in deaths and hospitalisations among the unvaccinated.
And experts today told MailOnline the figures suggest the Government would be right to delay by two weeks in order to ensure all over-50s have had their second dose and are protected.
Tellingly, there are currently just three patients in hospital with the Indian variant who have been double-vaccinated.
And the Mail reported on Saturday that around two thirds of people attending A&E with the new strain do not even need to spend the night in hospital.
In the same vein, the temperature of so-called Covid ‘hotspots’ is lowering. In Bolton, for instance, cases have been dropping over the last two weeks, and even at their recent highest point Covid patients in hospital were just a third of their January peak.
Ignoring such hard data, some of the advocates of delay like to bolster their argument by citing the modelling done by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), which sets out some pessimistic scenarios in the event of lockdown’s demise.
But there are two serious problems with this approach. First, Sage’s record on modelling throughout the pandemic has been poor and overly negative. Second, it was the Sage models themselves which formed the basis of the Government’s roadmap.
Even against the backdrop of the bleakest Sage scenario, ministers initially maintained that the re-opening on June 21 should proceed.
In fact, fully aware of the gloomiest Sage projections, Boris Johnson explicitly stated on April 13 that ‘at the moment I cannot see any reason to change the roadmap’.
Given that the picture has turned out to be much healthier than anything Sage projected, there would be no logic at all behind any delay. In their two scenarios closest to the Government’s roadmap, Sage’s models indicated that there could be between 6,100 and 10,200 hospital patients by early June with more increases to come.
In fact, the present total of just 879 is only 14 per cent of Sage’s lower projection. So we are currently in a much better position than the Government envisaged.
If the Government wants any further reassurance about the limited impact of easing lockdown, it could look across the Atlantic to the US, where a number of states have completely opened up without any dire consequences.
Florida dropped all its statelevel restrictions last September yet saw no higher rates of death or hospitalisations than other states that continued to rely on lockdowns.
Iowa, Mississippi and Texas followed suit and got rid of all their restrictions in March and all these states have seen cases and hospitalisations continue to fall steadily.
Ministers should also remember that keeping restrictions is not a cost-free option.
Such a policy would exact a brutal price on the economy, living standards, jobs, public finances and mental health. In sectors such as the hospitality industry, travel, entertainment, sports and the arts, where many businesses have already gone to the wall, the effect of a further delay would be devastating.
At times it seems as if the Government has developed a bunker mentality, infected by its own scaremongering propaganda and Sage’s shroud-waving.
But it is time to stop hiding behind the flawed models and fearful messages, embrace openness and get the country moving again without a delay. The real catastrophe would be a timid surrender to the voices of hesitancy and anxiety.
David Paton is professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School
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