How many avoidable deaths from Covid will there be by, say, the end of winter? Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert, says 50 a day, based on Sajid Javid’s candid admission that we can all look forward to 100,000 Covid cases per day in the near future.
The big difference – the game-changer – is the vaccines, which reduce the death rate, Javid claims. True enough, provided you’ve had two jabs. But many younger people have not, and the level of protection required for herd immunity across the population is still months away. The protective “wall” Javid describes hasn’t been finished. That’s the point. That’s why the government is going to let the bodies pile high rather than retain the rules a little longer – and we know Johnson once said exactly that.
With 100,000 cases per day at foreseeable vaccination levels, that would be about 15,000 dead unnecessarily by January, plus more suffering from the various debilitating “long Covid” syndromes, for how long no one yet knows. The casualty toll could be higher. It might be lower. But there is one thing that we can be sure of: Boris Johnson and his government will refuse to take responsibility for it.
We know this because it has sadly been the pattern of the past. Whenever we’ve relaxed restrictions prematurely it’s been said that the public didn’t obey the guidance – so, in other words, it’s your own fault. We also know the mantra of “taking personal responsibility” very well, and the vague, mixed messages that accompany it. Ministers are careful not to say “Just do what you want”, because that would mean they can’t later lay the blame for collapsing the NHS on a public that has failed to take its personal responsibilities seriously. “It’s your funeral” is the message – and sadly it will be, all too literally, for some.
The myth being propagated is that “we must live with Covid” because “zero Covid” cannot be achieved, and however many deaths occur, well, that’s just the way it is, or else it’s the fault of the public for neglecting personal responsibility. Wrong. If “zero Covid” is now unreachable, there is still a collective and individual duty to minimise avoidable deaths.
That duty is what is now being abandoned, collectively and individually. This is serious. Lives will be lost, needlessly, and long Covid may mean long-term, avoidable disability.
As for the issues of mental stress, domestic abuse, non-Covid backlogs and educational disruption – all are real and costly but, actually, lockdown substantially ended some weeks ago. We’re talking here about a delay while vaccination completes, plus mitigating measures to protect not only ourselves, but also those – for example, bus drivers (like Javid’s old dad) – who are exposed to the virus in the course of their work.
Yet the government won’t even try to protect them. We don’t allow people to smoke on buses or trains any longer, so why allow them to exhale Covid without restraint? Some who work in shops or use public transport will certainly pass away as a result of this reckless move. “Personal responsibility”, or lack of it by others, is the answer ministers offer. They should put that on the death certificates.