IIt’s easy to forget, as pubs reopen and children once again fill school playgrounds, the brutal winter Britain faced. The second wave claimed more lives than the first, schools remained closed, and a stay-at-home order was imposed across the country during the coldest and darkest months. A more transmissible variant of Covid-19 was identified in Kent just days before Christmas, derailing government plans to ease restrictions. Hospitals struggled to cope with a sharp increase in ICU admissions, with the Mayor of London declaring a “major incident”.
Fortunately, Britain is now in a much better position. As of this week, more than 60% of the adult population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and ONS estimates of predominance and the positivity of the tests continues to fall week after week. We can look forward to a summer of outdoor lunches and, in the long run, indoor dining, trips to the movies and concert halls. It seems likely that Covid-19 will become a disease that we can get vaccinated against, just like measles, rubella, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
But the UK’s position is the exception to the rule. Other countries are still fighting the pandemic. New lockdown orders have been applied in France and Germany, and daily confirmed cases are increasing around the world. The contrast between life in Edinburgh, where I live and work, and Delhi, India, could not be more stark. The number of confirmed cases in India exceeds 300,000 per day, while the actual number of infections is several times higher. Official death toll cannot be trusted: people are cremated on the street without death certificates, while hospitals run out of oxygen, ventilators and beds.
When a contagious virus overwhelms a country, it doesn’t just affect those who become seriously ill. The stress it places on health systems means that anyone in need of medical care and support, including children who need oxygen for pneumonia or adults who have heart attacks, will not receive it. At the same time, blockade measures in the poorest countries where there is little state support have catastrophic effects. If people have to choose between starving or risking Covid-19, the latter will win.
Just a few months ago, India had thought she was going through the worst. Its sudden change of direction is a reminder to other countries: never underestimate this virus, particularly its ability to mutate. If we are concerned that the UK will be locked in again, we must be watching the rest of the world to anticipate future outbreaks and learn and support other countries. The priorities for Britain now are twofold: First, it must protect the progress it has made so far and continue on its path of domestic economic and social recovery. Second, it must help other countries facing humanitarian crises as a result of the pandemic. This is not just a question of ethics, although the moral argument for helping other countries is tough. The pandemic will not end as long as the virus continues to spread in other countries.
There are several clear steps the government can take. To ensure a full national recovery, England’s border policies around international travel must be strengthened. The government’s “red list” approach to travel, which instructs people arriving from red-listed countries to self-quarantine in a government-approved hotel, has no scientific basis: India, for example, It was not on England’s red list for days despite having the highest number of cases in the world. At the same time, Hong Kong stopped all flights from India after a single flight from New Delhi resulted in 47 imported cases.
England should follow Scotland’s lead and adopt universal border restrictions and managed quarantine. You can look for proposals in the US and the EU that would grant vaccine passports to fully vaccinated people, allowing them to travel internationally without being quarantined. While we cannot completely stop the entry of new variants into the country, we can delay their spread. Border measures give scientists time to assess the situation and identify whether new variants that may emerge are more communicable, if they are more severe in younger demographics, and if they could undermine our natural immunity to Covid-19 or partially evade. our vaccines.
The next step after this will be to help other countries suppress Covid-19 and vaccinate their populations. Part of the reason for India’s surge may be the new variant (B1617) which is potentially more transmissible and severe. Meanwhile, South Africa has fought the B1351 variant, which has forced the government to suspend the application of the AstraZeneca jab and instead use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In Brazil, health authorities have struggled with the P1 variant, which seems to be able to re-infect people who have already had Covid-19.
It is notable that we have not seen variants emerge from New Zealand, Taiwan or South Korea, countries that continued to suppress the virus and aimed to eliminate it completely. Variants have emerged in places with uncontrolled transmission, where the virus has had the ability to replicate and change, giving rise to variants with a Darwinian selective advantage that can spread more rapidly.
If we really want the pandemic to end, we not only have to vaccinate at home, but vaccinate everywhere. This is the only way to prevent the appearance of variants that could escape our immunity, or affect children more severely. Here, science steps forward to offer solutions. Researchers are already working on a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would vaccinate against the virus that causes Covid-19 and prevent future spillover events.
Coronaviruses are generally transmitted by bats, but they can also infect camels (such as Mers), birds, cats (such as Sars), mink, tigers, lions, pangolins, and many other mammals. All that is needed to trigger the next pandemic is for these viruses to recombine and infect a human through normal respiratory mechanisms. While scientists may continue to pursue specific viruses, a better strategy is to create a vaccine that can protect against numerous coronaviruses. This is not science fiction: it is already happening, with positive results of the first rehearsals. But delivering such a vaccine will require investment in scientific research, vision for the future, and planning for manufacturing and distribution around the world.
As we enjoy the return to normalcy in Britain, we must remember that we are a small island on a huge planet. All you have to do is rotate a globe to recognize how our health is connected to that of others and why, therefore, we need a concerted global effort to end this pandemic.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism