Top scientist warns that UK’s progress in fighting Covid is now being squandered

dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

The emergence of Omicron variants shows that the world “is closer to the beginning of the pandemic than it is ending”, as one of Britain’s most prominent scientists has warned. He also lamented the lack of political leadership on Covid.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust who stepped down as a government scientific adviser last month, said the progress in combatting Covid-19 since its emergence was “being squandered”.

Writing in the Observer, he said rich countries had been taking “a very blinkered domestic focus, lulled into thinking that the worst of the pandemic was behind us“. While he was optimistic that the current vaccines would be able to protect against Omicron-related severe illness, he said that it may not hold true for future variants.

” The longer the virus spreads in large numbers of people worldwide, the more likely it will be that a new variant can outsmart our vaccines and treatments.” he wrote. We could be back at square one if that happens. This political drift and lack leadership are prolonging the pandemic and making it difficult for governments to address inequitable access. There have been wonderful speeches, warm words, but not the actions needed to ensure fair access to what we know works and would bring the pandemic to a close.”

He said that the urgent action needed had not changed – “wearing masks indoors, increasing testing, social distancing, isolating if positive (with support to do so) and vaccination will all help to drive down transmission and protect against illness.”

Farrar’s intervention came as a major charity raised concerns about the government’s booster jab campaign, which it sees as the best current method of combating the virus. Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams said that the program was “frankly in trouble”. She said: “It’s way behind where it should be, and to hear this week that as many as one in five care home residents have not yet had their boosters was nothing short of alarming.”

She spoke out after some targets for GPs were suspended to allow them to concentrate on administering jabs. Routine health checks for the over-75s and for new patients may be deferred under the new guidance.

” In this context, Abrahams stated that it is important to accelerate the booster program to ensure that as many elderly and vulnerable people get their jabs as possible. “This is yet another example of how weak our GP system has become.” Unless and until we invest more heavily in it we will continue to see these hard choices arising whenever a crisis comes along, and that’s certainly not in any one’s interests, least of all older people’s.”

Booster jabs being administered at St John’s Church in west London on 4 December 2021. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, called on all eligible people to have a booster before spending time with family this Christmas. He stated that it was crucial that everyone who is eligible receives a booster to boost their immunity before they spend time with their loved ones. “While our brilliant scientists continue to learn about the Omicron variant, it is essential that we do all we can to strengthen our defenses. Vaccines are the best way to do this .”

Downing Street announced on Saturday that it would be introducing pre-departure testing for those who travel to the UK. From 4am on Tuesday, travellers will have to complete a lateral flow or PCR test 48 hours before entering the country. Nigeria has been added as a red list country. All arrivals to Nigeria will be quarantined in hotels starting Monday at 4am. Officials said the moves came as evidence emerged that the Omicron strain had been reported in more than 40 countries, with apparent community transmission in places such as Norway. Officials also stated that there was evidence that Omicron’s incubation time was shorter than other variants.

Labour was pushing for the introduction the tests. According to a Downing Street source, the decision was based on new evidence regarding the spread of the variants and their characteristics. This will further frustrate the travel industry already severely affected by Covid restrictions.

Many scientists are puzzled by the sudden spread of Omicron. Professor Francois Balloux, University College London, said that what has surprised him most was the rapid increase in South African cases. It is alarming. It is very worrying.”

Early estimates have suggested this rise is being driven by the fact that the Omicron variant can infect between three and six times as many people as Delta, over the same time period. This alarming number has been countered by early reports that the variant is less likely to cause hospitalisation.

However, scientists warned last week that caution should be used when dealing with such data. It is already a difficult situation. Professor Rowland Kao of Edinburgh University said that Omicron may not cause severe illness but it could still lead to more hospitalisations and increase the burden on the health system.

There is also evidence that more than one in four (27%) British workers would turn up for work with symptoms of the Omicron variant because they needed the money, including 23% of those whose job puts them at increased risk of infection. Also, 16% of workers say they would be able to work from home, but are not allowed to by their employer, according to polling for the Royal Society for Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA). Just 31% say they would get support from their employer beyond statutory sick pay. Chief research officer at RSA Anthony Painter said that workers need to be financially secure in order to secure economic recovery. “In the short term, we need to see an ‘auto-furlough’ system and more generous sick pay, but long term, both the Conservatives and Labour must spell out how they will address the deep economic insecurity Covid has only exposed.”

Saturday saw further demonstrations in Europe against various governments’ coronavirus measures. In Austria, the first country in the EU to announce that it is to make vaccination against Covid mandatory, more than 40,000 joined a protest in Vienna.

Several thousand protested against the restrictions in Utrecht, Netherlands, last weekend. Protesters held banners that read “Medical Freedom Now!” Protesters decried what they saw as an increasing pressure by the Dutch government to get vaccines if they want regular society.

A group of protesters attacked a police van in Frankfurt, Germany. A large number of people were unable to wear masks, or keep social distance, and the police stopped them from marching. After a large demonstration in Berlin was banned, protestors gathered in small groups.

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