BuDS’ Analysis of the Prime Minister’s Statement about the Omicron variant of Covid-19

The Prime Minister has issued a statement about the Government’s plan now that the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 has reached the UK. Read on for more…


 

WHAT’S OMICRON?

There is a new version or variant of the Covid-19 virus called Omicron. The Omicron variant spreads faster and is easier to catch than the Delta variant which is currently the main variant in the UK. Also, Omicron may be able to infect and make ill more people who have been vaccinated or have had Covid-19 before. This makes Omicron potentially a very dangerous variant which could lead to a higher number of people being ill with Covid-19, going into hospital with Covid-19, or dying with Covid-19. The Government announcement was in response to the fact that some cases of Omicron have been seen in the UK and many more cases are likely to occur in the future. BuDS will publish an article with more information about Omicron shortly.


 

WHAT DID THE PM ANNOUNCE?

Here are the key points:

  • Everyone arriving in the UK from abroad will now be asked to take a PCR test and isolate until they receive a negative result. But it is unclear whether this will be enforced and supervised – in the past, many people have just ignored this rule.
  • From ‘next week’, face coverings are going to be required by law in shops and on public transport as a ‘temporary’ measure. An announcement will be made on this later. But this change will only apply for three weeks and will be reviewed then in the hope it can be removed again.
  • The third dose of vaccine currently being offered to adults aged 40+ and clinically vulnerable people (the ‘booster’ dose) will be offered to a bigger group of people. But no more details were announced, so we don’t know yet which people will become eligible for the third dose or booster.
  • At the moment, people are only offered the third vaccine dose after 6 months has passed since their second dose. The Government’s vaccination advisory group, the JCVI, will ‘look again’ at whether the third dose should be offered at 5 months instead.
  • At the moment, children aged under 12 are not being vaccinated and children aged 12 to 15 only get one dose of vaccine. The Government’s vaccination advisory group, the JCVI, will review its decisions on the vaccination of children and young people to see if these decisions are still valid in view of the new threat from Omicron.

 

WHAT DID THE PM NOT ANNOUNCE?

The PM did not implement any of the plans previously set out in his ‘Plan B’:

  • Despite infections being driven by children and young people, face coverings will not be made mandatory in schools, colleges or universities
  • Face coverings will not be made mandatory in workplaces, nightclubs, cinemas, restaurants, pubs, theatres and other public places, where the risk of spreading is actually highest
  • People will not be advised to work from home if they can and people will still be encouraged to return to offices and city centres
  • Vaccine passports will not be made mandatory
  • The PM said he was confident that Christmas will be ‘better than last year’, which is perhaps a sign that he does not intend to introduce any sort of lockdown or restrictions around Christmas time.

 

WHAT’S THE GOVERNMENT’S PLAN?

The Government are currently making the judgement that over 1000 people dying a week of Covid-19 and the NHS and ambulance services being nearly overwhelmed by patients with Covid-19 is better for the country than imposing any level of precautions against Covid-19. This judgement, which the Government call Plan A, is based on a hope that vaccinations will keep the number of Covid-19 deaths and serious illness under the point at which the NHS is overwhelmed.

As the PM said, Omicron changes the situation. Omicron is definitely very fast-spreading, which means that more people will catch it compared even to Delta. If there are more people catching Covid-19, more people will go into hospital and die even if vaccines work as well against Omicron as they do against Delta.

 The other big fear about Omicron is that vaccines will not work as well against that variant as they do against Delta. If this is confirmed (and it is looking likely), then the UK could face the double whammy of more people catching Covid-19 and more of those people getting seriously ill, going into hospital and dying. This would overwhelm the NHS.

A possible triple whammy is that the antiviral drugs used to treat people who are seriously ill with Covid-19 may not work as well against Omicron. If this happens as well, the NHS will be robbed of its most important medicines, so the number of people dying will increase even further.

The Government’s scientific and health advisors stated that they wanted the Government to ‘go in fast, go in hard and go wide’ on precautions against Omicron. However, the Government is not following this advice. It has instead decided to do as little as possible while it waits and sees how bad Omicron could be. Asking foreign arrivals to test, making face coverings mandatory in shops and public transport, trying to speed up third-dose or booster vaccines, and reviewing whether younger children will be vaccinated, is a very weak response to what the Government admit is a very serious potential threat.


 

WHAT BUDS THINKS

The Government’s hope appears to be that vaccines and antivirals will turn out to work against Omicron nearly as well as they do against Delta. From their point of view, this means the ‘only’ new risk from Omicron is that more people will catch Covid-19 more quickly, which could overwhelm the NHS. By vaccinating more people, including children, more quickly, the Government hope to stop that happening. If the Government is proved right, they can go back to Plan A: keeping their extremist backbenchers and supporters happy with no Covid-19 precautions while accepting very high levels of illness and death and nearly overwhelmed hospitals.

This is a highly risky plan. If Omicron does prove as doubly or triply dangerous as it appears to be, then the Government will be forced by a mounting death toll to U-turn and introduce wider precautions against Covid-19. If the situation gets very bad very quickly, more lockdowns may be the only way to stop an out-of-control epidemic killing tens of thousands of people, just as happened last Christmas. Even in the best case, England will have lost a vital three weeks which could have been used to contain and slow Omicron’s spread and prepare for the impact. Once again, the Government is doing too little, too late, too slow.

Politically, it appears that the strength of the ideological extremists inside Government and Parliament is now so great that only looming catastrophe will force Government to act properly against Covid-19. Once again, the Government is saving its political skin by sacrificing our lives and health.


 

ARE YOU A COVID GAMBLER?

The risk of catching Covid-19 in the community is very high and will stay high, as the Government admit. What this means is that if people ‘go back to normal’, sooner or later they WILL catch Covid-19.

Many people are going back to normal life because they are hoping or expecting that the vaccine or their youth will stop them getting seriously ill (and not develop longer-term brain and organ damage) when they catch Covid-19. This is the ‘getting away with catching Covid-19’ gamble: hoping that Covid-19 will not be too serious for you when you do catch it. Some people are forced into this position by their job or circumstances, or because their child has been forced back into school and is bringing the virus home.

Over the next three weeks, Omicron may well significantly change the odds for the ‘getting away with catching Covid-19’ gamble. If Omicron turns out to be able to make more vaccinated or younger people ill, your chance of ‘getting away with catching Covid-19’ is less, perhaps much less. The risk is all the more uncertain because Omicron might spread much quicker in England than people predict – you may be exposed to Omicron and not Delta over the next three weeks.

So, BuDS advises everyone, even the people who are happy to take the risk of catching Covid-19, to think again. The gamble you are taking with your life and health may get riskier. Even if you are prepared to gamble, you should wait to see what odds you have of ‘getting away with catching Covid-19’. It’s sensible and reasonable to take precautions like limiting your contact with others and avoiding indoor and crowded places while you wait to see how the odds have changed. 


 

ARE YOU A SAFETY-FIRST PERSON?

Many people are unable or unwilling to take the gamble of ‘getting away with catching Covid-19’. They want to keep themselves safe by not catching Covid-19 in the first place. But this means going against the crowd and continuing to self-isolate and avoiding public places. BuDS continues to advise these people to keep on being Covid-Careful – take few risks, keep in contact with loved ones, but limit your contact with people who could give you Covid-19.


 

UPDATES

BuDS will of course keep you fully updated as we get to know more about Omicron.