Official figures continue to show falling numbers of Covid cases and deaths. There were 333 Covid deaths announced yesterday, the lowest 24-hour toll since December 27th and a drop of 18% on the 406 last Monday. Any optimism, however, is to be kept firmly in check by the vaccine resistant South African variant. The Telegraph has more.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may be only 10% effective against the new South African variant, it has emerged, as experts warn that 147 UK cases could be the “tip of the iceberg”.
The results of a new study in South Africa show that the jab offers virtually no protection against mild to moderate illness, meaning it is likely to allow the virus to spread.
However, scientists believe the Oxford-designed jab, currently shouldering the bulk of the rollout burden in the UK, should protect against hospitalisation and death from the variant…
The full details came to light as UK ministers sought to bolster public confidence in the vaccine programme.
Boris Johnson said the Oxford vaccine would remain a “massive benefit” to the national effort, adding that medicine “is slowly getting the upper hand over the disease”.
Matt Hancock hosted yet another Downing Street press conference, in which he was joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, and by NHS England’s Medical Director for Primary Care Dr Nikki Kanani. While he offered a positive update on the rollout of vaccines and said “we’re turning a corner”, Hancock made it clear that the new variants mean this won’t be over any time soon.
“We mustn’t let a new variant undo all of the good work that the vaccine rollout is doing to protect people.
“Now, the first line of defence is to spot and suppress new variants aggressively wherever they’re found.
“Hence the tougher measures at the border and the firm action we’re taking in those small number of areas where variants of concern have been found in the community Including door-to-door communications, and enhanced testing and sequencing.
“At the same time, since the emergence of variants of concern late last year, we’ve been working on how vaccines can be used to tackle them.”
The Spectator‘s Katy Balls sums up the overall message of the conference as “Don’t Panic”.
With 147 confirmed cases of the South African variant so far identified in the UK, Van-Tam said the Kent variant remains the dominant threat and all vaccines are believed to be effective against the UK strain. He said there was “no reason to think that the South African variant will catch up or overtake our current virus in the next few months”.
The conference did not offer much in the way of substantial comment on the pathway out of lockdown restrictions, merely a warning against ambitious Summer holiday plans.
As for the future, neither Hancock nor Van-Tam was in the mood to offer specifics on the roadmap for easing the lockdown. The Health Secretary said it was too early to discuss relaxing exercise rules to allow for more people to exercise together. Meanwhile, JVT’s advice on summer holidays was simply the more ambitious the plan, the higher the chance of it being cancelled.
Naturally it was the danger presented by the new variant which dominated the reporting. Prompted by a BBC news report, one of our readers had this question:
In case you thought there might be cautious grounds for optimism that we might be gradually heaving our way towards the end of this crisis, the BBC was on hand yesterday to dash any hopes. The 1800 News on Radio 4 began with Boris Johnson’s optimism about vaccines but that mood couldn’t last.
The Science Correspondent, David Shukman, banged out a piece about the dangerous prospect of mutated variants racing ahead of vaccines, helped by countries that won’t be vaccinating until well into next year and by difficulties in getting other countries up to speed with genome analysis.
That’s all theoretically true of course, but it’s been true of all viruses since forever so it wasn’t exactly a revelation. However, the real purpose seems to have to been to inject a mood of complete pessimism and despair.
In the unlikely event any listeners were still holding onto some modicum of sanity after that, Shukman finished with the priceless: “And all the time the risk is that new variants will emerge that can evade the vaccines and cause harm before the drugs can be updated.”
It’s not clear why Shukman didn’t just say, “It’s all over people, you might as well give up now; everything you’ve done for the last year was a complete and utter waste of time because we’re sunk.”
In one sentence he’d managed to undermine completely the vaccine message by suggesting that they’re never going to catch up. Of course, he could have pointed out either that the vaccines might work, or that the virus might mutate into a contagious but relatively harmless form, which are equally possible. But that would be to miss the chance to be an apocalyptic doom-monger, wouldn’t it?
Good old BBC.