Middle ground plea over COVID restriction move

The Tony Blair Institute for Global change has warned that the UK cannot afford to remove all restrictions on social interaction amid calls for a “middle ground” to be created.

The Institute has issued a new paper on the threat that the lifting of current restrictions will pose adding that the link between infection rates and hospitalisation has yet to be broken.

The document calls for a range of actions including the mandatory use of a COVID-19 pass on a temporary basis in an effort to restore confidence, and changes to the track and trace system which means only those who have tested positive should be forced to isolate. It comes amid fears as infection rates rise millions of workers will be forced to isolate due to being forced to isolate due to potential contact with a person who has the virus.

“Cases of the virus continue to rise in the UK, as do deaths and hospitalisations,” said the paper. “While the vaccination programme is providing substantial protection, it does not remove the danger of the NHS being overwhelmed again, and there are associated risks of additional pressures that come from all the untreated conditions and waiting lists that have accumulated over the course of the pandemic. Infections will continue to rise, putting an increasing number of people at risk of developing Long Covid.”

It added cases are on the increase across age groups, particularly among younger cohorts. On 8 April, there were 2,871 new cases with 223 admitted to hospital. Compare this to 8 July, when there were 31,772 new cases and 563 people admitted to hospital. These numbers indicate that while the hospitalisation rate remains low compared to the dramatic rise in cases, the link between the two has not been ruptured.

“Therefore, as cases and hospitalisations continue to increase and the link remains intact, it is clear that restrictions should be substantially eased but not lifted completely,” it explained.

The institute said the problem with the government’s present strategy is that it risks generating confusion that will undermine the efficacy of its approach. Our view is that everything is simpler to understand and implement if we are clear in the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Otherwise we are in danger of loosening restrictions too extensively, for example, in relation to mask-wearing, while being too rigid in other instances, for example, the isolation provisions around NHS Track and Trace. We go on to explain here what we consider to be a far more balanced approach to risks and restrictions.

“Some would want an even more restrictive policy, putting off step 4 of the reopening roadmap. But we believe there is a middle path,” said the paper. “These measures will enable economic growth and provide the opportunity for individuals to manage their own risks, especially given that the fully vaccinated have less chance of catching and transmitting the virus. But they also build in a role for collective measures – including the wearing of masks in crowded, enclosed public spaces – to protect those most at risk.”

The institute said it would propose:

  • The temporary mandating of the NHS COVID Pass to account for vaccine and testing status to restore confidence in hospitality and to avoid creating super-spreader events and settings.
  • A test, trace and isolation strategy that accounts for vaccine status and accommodates tests that allow for release, to ensure just those who are infected with Covid-19 are indeed isolating.
  • The vaccination of adolescents to prevent them spreading the virus.
  • A renewed focus on reducing vaccine hesitancy by publishing absolute numbers on vaccine efficacy in terms of cases, hospitalisations and deaths – broken down by age, vaccine status and vaccine type. By presenting vaccine-efficacy data in absolute numbers, broken down by status, and by publishing this data in a coherent way, confidence in the vaccines can be built while reducing hesitancy.
  • Masks by default in settings where individual risk can’t be managed, including on crowded public transport to reduce transmission.

“Adopting the middle path is the most effective option on the table, and the only one that can truly promise a permanent end to blanket restrictions,” added the institute.

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