Covid Protection and Support Strategy: January 2022
Since December 1st England has reported over 3 million Covid cases, now almost entirely due to the Omicron variant, with over a million cases reported in the last week alone. With positivity rates rising rapidly and the testing system running at capacity, it is certain that these numbers are an underestimate. ONS infection survey reported that 1 in 15 people in England had Covid in the last week of 2021.
SAGE warned repeatedly that this rapid increase in cases would lead to unsustainable pressure on the NHS in January 2022 with only “Plan B” mitigation measures, even with good booster uptake, and even if Omicron is less harmful than Delta. While restrictions on social contact in December could have been effective in averting a crisis, now it is too late. Social mixing over the festive period has already resulted in increased infections which will feed through into increased social disruption, hospitalisations and deaths over the coming weeks.
However, it still remains critical to take action now in order to ensure that the crisis is not prolonged and that, as infections fall, they stay low. The Government refuse to countenance anything beyond their ‘Plan B’ measures on the grounds that they do not want to restrict or lockdown the public. However, the key measures that are now required are less a matter of restrictions than of communicating the information, establishing the protections and providing the support that are necessary for people to be able to keep themselves and their community in good health. They centre on making environments safer (including, critically, schools) and thereby increasing the confidence with which all sections of the community, including the most vulnerable, can fully participate in society. Hence, they are not only good for physical health but also for mental health and for the economy.