The NHS emergency, Covid, and the coming winter

Submitted by martin on 8 November, 2021 - 1:10 Author: Martin Thomas
Junior hospital doctors' strike

The NHS is already packed to capacity. The Tories' stonewall on NHS pay (3% offer, when inflation is nearing 5%), and accumulated stress, keep the NHS staff shortage acute.

Flu rates are still low, but then flu usually takes off only from December. A flu spike, on top of the Covid stress and the backlog from lockdowns, could overflow NHS capacity.

Since 21 October, soon after some five weeks of rising counts pushed NHS bosses and scientists to call for restoration of mild Covid restrictions, Covid case counts have been falling in Britain.

Elsewhere in western Europe they have been rising. Britain's count, recently much higher than other countries', is now below Belgium and the Netherlands, and could be overtaken soon by Denmark, Germany, and Norway.

The count of Covid-deaths follows the count of cases with a lag, and is still higher in Britain. Thanks to vaccination, it is only about one-tenth its level of early-2021. Sweden's current rate is 3% of early 2021. The very high death rates are in countries with low vaccination: Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Latvia.

The rise in western Europe shows that, with Delta, case counts can spike even with wide vaccination. With more indoors crowding, and slackening of voluntary Covid precautions, counts could easily spike again in Britain in the coming months.

The Netherlands publishes estimates of where Covid infections are incurred. Especially with counts relatively high, they must be incomplete, but they give food for thought.

Researchers at COG-UK and Imperial College have found that Delta transmits within households much more than previous variants. The Netherlands figures confirm that, with 74% of infections between household members or from household visitors.

The household transmission magnifies transmissions outside the home, with 9% in work (some workplaces breed many more infections than others), 9% in parties, bars, cafés, etc., 5% in schools, 5% in care homes, and smaller figures from elsewhere (the total is more than 100% because a transmission can come under more than one heading).

Transmission will not be shut down. But the evidence suggests that careful but sustainable precautionary rules, plus social-solidarity measures, plus vaccination, could keep the impact low for the coming months.

"In time... a Covid-19 shot will just be another element of the [annual] vaccination programme", an Australian pharmacist as the country races to vaccinate enough to open up to travel and ease internal restrictions.

The prospects are the same for other countries. The most urgent Covid statistic for this week is the one largely unchanged for months: the world is vaccinating at the rate of only 0.4 per 100 per day, and Africa at only 0.1 per 100 per day.

Requisition Big Pharma! Launch worldwide ultra-fast production and distribution of vaccines (and of Pfizer's new anti-Covid pill, if its promising claims prove solid)!

Africa's case and death counts are falling; but we now know that after Covid down-trends, new spikes come, and will continue to come for years yet.

The same principle applies as in Britain: organising for a long haul, and not deceiving ourselves that short Covid-downturns mean the virus is "conquered".

Short-term measures needed now to curb Covid are also the long-term ones: full isolation pay for all; workers' control of workplace safety; requisitioning capacity and increasing funds to restore a fully-public, adequately-staffed, well-paid NHS; bringing social care into the public sector, with NHS-level pay and conditions for staff; winning uncrowded housing for all. Plus now, and probably for a while, mild social restrictions (mask mandates and so on).

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