We are currently witnessing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in England. Public Health England figures released on 3rd June suggest that the Delta variant has spread widely across the UK and is continuing to spread, that it has higher infectivity than the previous circulating variant, and that it is more likely to cause disease and hospitalization. There is increasing evidence that vaccine efficacy is compromised against this variant, and that individuals remain at particular risk until they receive two doses. There is some evidence that protection from two doses wanes after a number of months, particularly in the elderly. Meanwhile, cases are surging in school aged children, and spreading into the community, particularly amongst those yet to be fully vaccinated. It is clear that the link between infection and hospitalization has not yet been fully broken.
We wish to avoid another full lockdown, which will damage education and people’s wellbeing as well as the economy. This requires reversing the growth in cases. The UK government will announce their plans for future pandemic control on 14th June. As things stand, it is very difficult to justify progressing with the last stage of the roadmap, scheduled for 21st June, a point that should be made now to modify current false hopes.
In addition, there are a number of steps which should be implemented immediately to reduce current levels of transmission, including:
- Strengthening financial and practical support to those requiring isolation following symptoms or a positive test, or for those in contact with positive testing individuals;
- Ensuring adequate ventilation and infection control measures within indoor venues (e.g. schools, workplaces, hospitality), with rigorous monitoring, certification of venues, and sanctions where these measures are not undertaken;
- Reinstating face coverings for secondary school children, and providing resources to enhance classroom ventilation
- Doing away with the red/amber/green travel stratification and implementing comprehensive border control with managed quarantine, in order to avoid the importation of novel variants and the exportation of UK infections;
- Further accelerating vaccine rollout, and ensuring completion of two doses, to provide protection from infection. Boosters for vulnerable populations should be considered urgently by JCVI;
- Adequately resourcing the global vaccine initiative, to ensure control of transmission worldwide.