The Guardian view on Covid-19 variants: lax rules create needless risk

Figcaption The Guardian View On Covid Variants La Rules Create Needless Risk
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

It was a weekend of bright sunshine, with daffodils blooming alongside snowdrops in southern areas and a spectacular full moon, as families with children in England began readying themselves to return to school, with just one more week to spend at home (most pupils in Scotland and Wales must wait a while longer). The sense of eagerness for a return to something closer to life before the pandemic was palpable, with parks full and the longer afternoons holding out the promise of better times ahead. Then, on Sunday, came the announcement that six cases of the Brazilian coronavirus variant known as P1 have been identified, three each in England and Scotland, with the whereabouts of one of the infected people unknown.

This missing person arrived at Heathrow (from Sao Paulo, via Zurich) before hotel quarantine regulations were introduced on 15 February. So this bad news isn’t the result of anyone having disobeyed rules, although a test registration card was left incomplete. Hopefully they will respond to a public call for anyone tested on 12 or 13 February to come forward. But if any reminder were needed of the significant risks that remain as we inch towards a lifting of restrictions, the frantic efforts now under way to find this person should leave no one in doubt. While it isn’t known exactly how dangerous the P1 variant is, the reason it has sparked alarm is evidence suggesting that it is more transmissible than other variants and also, crucially, that it may be capable of antigenic escape. In other words, vaccines may not grant as much protection against it.

Complacency is the enemy in the current circumstances. While it must not be allowed to obscure the UK’s extremely poor record during the pandemic, above all the appallingly high number of deaths, our vaccination programme is by any measure a great success. But the temptation to think that the worst is behind us and hope for the best must be strenuously resisted. Even more so, given that this chin-up posture is widely understood to be among the prime minister’s strongest personal instincts (and one of the reasons why, despite the UK’s poor record, many voters like him).

Over recent months, the government has altered tack, paying more attention to its scientific advisers and less to the dangerous chorus of sirens on its right (both in parliament and the press). The voices of caution must now be listened to again. The former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, and senior Labour politicians have all criticised the current quarantine arrangements as insufficient. They are right. Rules were introduced slowly and are overly lax, with too many exemptions (both in terms of occupational groups and countries of origin).

But it would be a mistake to focus only on foreign variants. International travel is a significant risk, and no one should allow enthusiasm about summer holidays or discomfort around border controls to blind them to this. But equally, as the rules around mixing are relaxed, there is every chance that new variants may emerge here. With pupils taking regular tests in advance of their return to classrooms, it is essential that public health infrastructure is strengthened so that infections can be rapidly identified, outbreaks contained and variants dealt with. The outsourced test-and-trace system overseen by Dido Harding was the weakest element in the UK’s initial pandemic response. Now, a person infected with P1 is being searched for because a test result form was left blank. Despite recent progress, reasons to be fearful remain.

Ultimele News