Opinion: ‘UK leading way in battle on Covid’

Peterborough’s MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Saturday, 15th January 2022, 2:15 pm
A staff member prepares a syringe with the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the first reports of coronavirus, around two years ago, the newspaper front pages have often been bleak.

This week saw a rather better story.

“Britain leads the northern hemisphere in outpacing the pandemic,” read The Times.

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The first line of their story was even better, bringing a prediction that the UK “will be one of the first countries in the world to emerge from the pandemic, according to a leading public health expert”.

That expert is David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He’d been speaking at Chatham House, while the latest data revealed Omicron infections peaking and beginning to fall.

Mr Heymann believes the UK is close to reducing the virus to being endemic. That obviously sounds good.

For the non-epidemiologists among us, it’s still fair to ask what it really means!

Literally, it means coronavirus doesn’t go away, but becomes manageable, like other diseases. In the professor’s words, the data shows Covid-19 is “not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high”.

Our vaccine and booster programme has delivered just that, here in Britain.

More than 90% of people are vaccinated, with around 95% having antibodies. There is also longer-lasting T cell protection.

What does this mean in practice? Let’s say you are over 65 and got your booster ; compared to someone unvaccinated, your chance of being hospitalised with Omicron is between 90 and 95 per cent lower.

The figures on severity back this up. Fewer people are in intensive care units and the majority of those people are unvaccinated. So get your jab!

But what does an endemic virus mean more broadly? For one thing, no possible return to lockdowns. In fact, some Plan B restrictions could be lifted by the end of this month.

An endemic coronavirus is something we can live with and manage normally. By the summer, we could see masks disappearing. At some point, it will mean the end of testing, except for those who show symptoms.

A lateral flow test will become the polite thing to do, for occasions, before our noses are spared altogether.

It means being able to plan a holiday or event without being worried about it being cancelled. As the rest of the world catches up, it could also mean the end of tests and quarantines when flying abroad.

Our hospitality businesses, who have suffered most from the virus, will finally hit their stride.

In Peterborough, there was another £1.2 million of Government help just before Christmas, but that’s nothing compared to paid custom.

I hope that two years of pent-up demand will produce an economic boom for wedding businesses, caterers, venues and every imaginable support service. They deserve it.

The end of the pandemic means the end of compulsory isolation.

A reduction to five days is being talked about already. And no pandemic means no more pingdemics, which will benefit the NHS above all.

Could this all be destroyed by some Pi, Rho or Sigma fly-in-the-Covid-ointment?

Perhaps. An unusual variant can’t be ruled out, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely.

Omicron has followed and sped us along the path to an endemic virus.

I am proud that Britain is leading the world out of our collective misery. The next aim should be a pan-vaccinated planet.