The echo of the 1966 football commentary resonated around the stadia of the Euros. But this time not to reflect the excitement of winning. There is a very different reason. Large crowds in stadia and in the streets, coming together from every corner of the country, teams travelling widely throughout Europe and thousands of delegates from around the world all coming together in close proximity to sing and dance and cheer and hug; not a mask in sight, created scenes no different from what would have happened before the pandemic or indeed in 1966.
The young and the irresponsible could now be excused for interpreting this as meaning that the pandemic is all over. Well it is now, in the minds of a whole section of the public. It took just the moment of a ball in the net for self-discipline and the last vestiges of adherence to the rules to be abandoned.
The government’s relaxing of the rules as the virus spreads rapidly, seems to acknowledge that a section of the population has grown tired of and reluctant to adhere to the rules. Perhaps the time has come when we will have to live with the virus just as we do with flu. Perhaps Government is right. We shall see.
Hopefully those of us who are vaccinated are in sufficient numbers to protect the rest. Hopefully also those of us who understand what being responsible when it comes to wearing masks will be able to avoid the illness. Far from a celebration of winning, thinking it’s all over may lead to quite the opposite if the majority does not make sensible choices.
The scenes at football and the celebrations afterwards will undoubtedly lead to claims of confusion. There could be an additional rule; if you are confused, wear a mask.
It is worth reflecting on what was said in Monday’s briefing by the Prime Minister.
- The pandemic is not over.
- Cases particularly with the Delta variant, are rising rapidly and following lifting of restrictions will rise further from the present 28,000 cases per day to 50,000 cases per day (the Prime Minister on Monday) or 100,000 cases per day (the Health Secretary Tuesday).
- Hospitalisations will inevitably rise as will death. Further mutations are more likely.
- Vaccination is however unquestionably effective once double vaccination has been achieved, in reducing both the risk of hospitalisation and death.
- Vaccination is less effective at preventing infection, particularly with the Delta variant.
- Infection is likely to be more severe in the immunocompromised and the elderly, and when time has elapsed since vaccination.
- Transmission of infection is more likely to occur in closed indoor settings, less likely in open outdoor settings.
- The principal defences against transmission remain hand hygiene, distance apart and mask wearing.
- Wearing a mask does not just protect the wearer from acquiring infection but also transmitting infection to those in proximity; both in respect of droplet and aerosol transmission.
- It is not possible to individualise the risk of acquiring infection, merely to indicate the groups and settings in which it is more likely.
It is a bold move to lift restrictions when case numbers are rising. If deferred however, the peak incidence of new cases would probably coincide with the onset of seasonal ‘flu, compounding problems for the NHS. The R number is currently estimated at 1.1 to 1.3, but higher in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although the government is not producing an R number for the UK as a whole, it is higher now than when restrictions were lifted last year. It should be noted that the government is no longer using the word irreversible as applied to the lifting of restrictions.