The Office for National Statistics (ONS), have released the latest data from their COVID-19 Infection Survey.
Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said:
“The ONS is an excellent means of assessing the COVID situation across the UK as the survey is independent of testing bias – the notion that this might be scaled back following other methods of surveillance is both short-sighted and negligent.
“As predicted for many weeks hence, the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are fuelling another wave of infections – our third already this year. The rate of reinfection with these variants is also dramatically increased and prevalence is increasing across all ages. This highlights the ability of these viruses to evade antibody immunity and the rapidity with which they are causing waves across the globe is concerning.
“We are of course in a far better place now than in 2020 or 2021 due to the UK vaccine programme. This mitigates the rate at which symptomatic SARS-CoV2 infection develops into severe disease, ICU admissions, and deaths, but it does not completely remove it. At the peak of the BA2 wave, we saw more than 1200 deaths in a week, it was more than 1600 for BA1; Omicron taken together has now overtaken delta as a certificated cause of death. This also differs from influenza as the majority of COVID deaths (nearly 60% in the recent survey) represent the main underlying cause, far higher than influenza.
“Moreover, regardless of whether the individual risk of severe disease or death might now be approaching that of other viruses due to vaccines, we do not see multiple waves for other viruses on this scale, and both our population immunity and the properties of the virus are continuously changing. Comparisons to the pre-vaccine era are of course reassuring, but the idea that this race has been run to the best of our ability is nonsense. A pandemic is just that, there are no exceptions until it ends for all.
“Perhaps more troubling is the level of post-acute complications and full post-COVID syndrome (“long COVID”) resulting from unmitigated prevalence in this country – over two million according to the ONS self-reporting system, 826,000 (42%) of whom had COVID at least one year previously and 376,000 (19%) at least two years previously. Sadly, this also applies to 10s of 1000s of children, for whom the vaccine programme has sadly faltered.
“It is abundantly clear that the government “Living with COVID” strategy is both “for most” and lacks long term provision for wellbeing. The Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) has already raised concerns, yet despite the clear economic benefits of mitigations such as improved building ventilation announced last week, we remain in a situation where even the NHS are being told by the government that protections aren’t necessary…surely a self-defeating attitude for a service already struggling with under-staffing and lack of adequate resource.
“Responsible public health makes reasonable adjustments to ensure that the population as a whole can move forward with greater freedoms and reduced chance of illness or injury. This is entirely missing from current practice, and it is deeply concerning for the longer term. Notably, we are not talking about lockdowns or similar, but the provision of sensible measures to allow everyone to safely re-engage with society going forwards.”
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 24 June 2022
Dr Stephen Griffin: “Member of Indie SAGE.”