BuDS’ Analysis of the Prime Minister’s Briefing about the Response to Omicron

The Prime Minister yesterday (4 January) held another Covid-19 press conference. While acknowledging the seriousness of the Omicron emergency and announcing plans to put the NHS and essential services on a ‘war footing’, the PM also said that the Government would NOT be introducing any further precautions to slow the spread of Omicron and instead would ‘ride the wave’. Read on for more…


 

THINGS ARE VERY SERIOUS…

The PM and the Chief Medical Officer pointed out that the new Omicron variant had created a very dangerous situation in England:

  • Over 200,000 people are testing positive every day, twice as many as in earlier waves, and this number will go up.
  • The independent ONS Infection Survey is showing 1 in 25 of the English population now has Covid.
  • Over 15,000 people are now in hospital with Covid, twice as many as were in hospital at the same period of the last Delta wave.
  • The number of people in hospital with Covid is already nearly the same as were in hospital at the peak of the last Delta wave, and this number too will keep going up.

 

EMERGENCY MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN…

Because of this dangerous situation, the PM said that emergency measures will be taken:

  • From 10 January, critical workers in key areas like healthcare, justice and the police, food processing and truckers will be tested every day by their employers so that they do not need to self-isolate if they are a close contact of an infected person. The Government hopes this will prevent a breakdown of basic services like fuel, food and security caused by staff shortages during the Omicron wave.
  • The military will be called in to support NHS trusts who cannot cope – already many Trusts have cancelled all non-emergency treatment and a number of ambulance trusts have declared emergencies.
  • 100 ‘Nightingale Units’ (temporary field hospitals in car parks) are being opened around the country.
  • 2500 ‘virtual hospital beds’ will be created. It seems that this means that, rather than admitting people with breathing difficulties to hospital for clinical monitoring, instead family will have to care for seriously ill people at home. Families will get telephone support from a call centre and patients will get a basic pulse oximeter to measure their own blood oxygen levels so they do not need to come into hospital until the last minute. Calling this highly risky move a ‘virtual hospital bed’ is not credible.
  • The NHS is put onto a ‘war footing’ (nobody knows what that means) and a ‘new NHS territorial army’ (meaning NHS vaccination volunteers?) is ‘emerging’.

 

BUT STILL NO MORE COVID PRECAUTIONS!

The PM disclosed that he will be recommending that no further Covid precautions are introduced in England, such as closing super-spreader places like cinemas, theatres and nightclubs. According to the PM, the fact that people have themselves changed their behaviour (i.e. taken the sensible precautions the Government won’t recommend or impose) means there is no need for additional compulsory precautions. The PM did not explain why, if voluntary precautions were enough, he was still saying there was an emergency in the NHS.

The PM also said that England would ‘ride the Omicron wave’ with schools and businesses open, ‘finding a way to live with the virus’, and avoiding the ‘devastation for livelihoods and children’s life chances’ that ‘shutting down’ would bring. This argument ignores the obvious fact that a total lockdown is not the only option available.

Ventilating and filtering the air inside buildings, schools and workplaces would mean work and education could continue more safely. Closing super-spreader venues like nightclubs and other mass entertainment venues would cut transmission and not destroy the economy. Mandating the wearing of effective N95/FFPE2 face masks in all public places would mean everyone could go about their business much more safely without any economic or social drawbacks. Other countries are doing all these things and their economies and culture are not destroyed. Controlling Covid and restoring people’s confidence is vital for economic success, whereas allowing the virus to run riot damages the economy.

The real reason that the Government have not followed every other western nation in trying to restrict the spread of Omicron is not about the economy, facts or data. It is just about political extremism and the selfish desire of the PM and Government ministers to keep their jobs. If the PM or Cabinet wanted to do the right thing and introduce sensible Covid precautions, the support of the Opposition parties means that the House of Commons would vote for those precautions by a large majority. But the noisy pro-Covid extremists inside the PM’s own political party would then immediately try, and probably succeed, to remove the PM as leader. That is what the PM wants to avoid at all costs.  Hospitals will fill up, people will die and be made seriously ill, millions will get Long Covid, the economy will shrivel – all simply so the PM and his political chums can hang on to power.


 

SOME BIG INACCURACIES…

The Prime Minister said “…Omicron is milder than previous variants…”. Five minutes later, the Chief Medical Officer explicitly said: “The idea that Omicron is milder, rather than just causing less hospitalisations, is easily disproved…”. The proof quoted by the CMO was that (as the PM himself had said) Omicron is already hospitalising more people than Delta at the same point in the two waves, even before the new variant works into older and more vulnerable groups. Another point made by the CMO was that over two-thirds of those in hospital infected with Omicron were admitted because they were seriously ill with Omicron symptoms. Neither of those two things would happen if Omicron was ‘milder’ than Delta.

The PM also claimed that the Government had achieved its objective of inviting all adults for a booster vaccine one month early, by 31 December 2021 rather than 31 January 2022. But (and BuDS has checked), the target announced by the PM was always to offer appointments by 31 December, so this is a straightforward false claim.


 

A LOT OF WAFFLE

A lot of direct questions were put by journalists and ‘members of the public’, but no straight answers were given. Despite repeatedly saying that the Government was ‘watching the data’, the PM was unable to say what actual level of infections, hospitalisations or deaths would trigger tougher Covid precautions. This suggests that there is no real plan in place other than to hope nothing catastrophic happens which will force the Government to act.


 

BuDS IS HERE TO HELP

If you have any questions about Covid-19, we will do our best to answer them. You can contact us through social media, by e-mailing buds-support@buds.org.uk or by leaving a voicemail on 01494 211179.