Boris Johnson faces increasing warnings of a summer of chaos in schools and workplaces, amid urgent demands for clarity on the government’s plans to address an unpredictable escalation in Covid cases.
Keeping the advice to wear masks in certain settings and abandoning quarantine for anyone in England who is fully vaccinated are measures the government is examining to stop a resurgence of more forced cases and isolations, something that also risks affecting the population. NHS workforce.
High-level scientists warn that hospitals are still likely to stretch during the summer if Covid suppression measures are not maintained after July 19, when legal restrictions are due to be lifted. Doctors are already demanding that some measures be maintained during the summer, while teachers and parents warn of a chaotic situation in schools, with different institutions applying different rules to send children home if they have been exposed to Covid. .
Competing demands from schools, businesses and the NHS, and the potential course of the disease, now pose difficult decisions for Johnson about his timeline for ending the restrictions. While hospital admissions have been on the rise in England, doctors speak of “smoldering” at levels that remain manageable. However, some warn that, along with staff pressures and high levels of emergency admissions, an increase in Covid patients could have an effect on non-Covid services.
Scientists warn that a large third wave of cases would be hugely damaging, even if hospitalizations and deaths were greatly reduced. The number of cases amounts to about 27,000 a day. “At present, we still have a tracking system where contacts have to self-isolate,” said Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh. “If for each case you ask five or maybe even ten people to isolate themselves, the disruption caused by a big wave will be massive. So the government may well have to think about its policy regarding contacts, for that reason.
“The government now has a very difficult decision to make. If they continue with the unlocking, I must assume that they are confident that cases will not exceed 100,000 per day and that there will not be a large increase in hospitalizations. Some of the models say it’s a possibility. “
James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in Oxford, said the country was now “firmly in a third wave of cases.”
He added: “The Delta variant continues to grow despite track and trace, despite testing, despite restrictions and despite masking, and unless you are lucky or extremely careful, we will all be exposed to Delta. And given that track and trace have failed to contain Delta in the UK, it is unclear whether its retention has any public health value, particularly given current vaccination rates. ”However, he said, vaccines and time will eventually end the delta wave in the UK.
Ministers are considering withholding guidance on wearing masks, while ending legal requirements on wearing them. They also plan to end the quarantine for those with two vaccinations. However, Professor Robert West, a psychologist who advises the government, warned that the approach could cause “resentment.”
Meanwhile, a chaotic picture has emerged in schools as data reveals the vastly different approaches primary and secondary school principals are taking to isolate students.
Slightly more than half (54%) of principals in elementary schools said that they had recently asked an entire class to isolate themselves when one child tested positive, while a third (32%) had asked all children in the Same year group bubble, according to a survey of 8,000 teachers conducted by the Teacher Tapp app. However, principals in high schools, where the course clusters tend to be larger, have taken a different approach. Four-fifths (79%) asked only the children who were sitting closest to self-isolation, while only 11% asked this of all children in the same class and 5% in the bubble of the same year.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, warned that the government “failed to come up with a credible plan to reduce cases.” He added: “Vaccination is immensely effective, but we also need adequate isolation support to interrupt transmission. Crucially, the NHS, which still knows nothing about future Covid funding, deserves clarification as to whether it will get the much-needed resources for next winter. With rumors that ministers are already preparing a winter restriction plan, this additional investment is urgent. “