United Kingdom

We'll never have Zero Covid. But yes, I believe the end is in sight, says PHILIP THOMAS

Has the beast been tamed? Could the end of Covid really be in sight? The numbers certainly look promising.

Yesterday, it emerged that new daily infections had fallen in England for six days in a row. The numbers had plummeted 38 per cent week on week, with deaths happily down 24 per cent.

Every English region saw a significant drop in new infections.

The ever-gloomy modellers at the Government’s scientific advisory committee, Sage, had warned that new cases could reach 100,000 per day by the start of August, with ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson even suggesting this could surge to 200,000 per day.

Yet, yesterday, fewer than 25,000 positive tests were reported: less than a quarter of Sage’s bleak prediction. 

Even more reassuringly, unlike the first two waves, the new cases are not translating into a surge in hospitalisations or deaths — just 14 deaths were reported yesterday, down almost a quarter on the week before.

Last week, when the Prime Minister decided to lift the remaining official Covid restrictions, he was accused by critics of indulging in a ‘reckless’ experiment that could result in the virus spreading like wildfire across Britain, threatening the NHS.

Philip Thomas (pictured) is the only expert to accurately predict deaths and cases

Every English region saw a significant drop in new infections on Monday (Pictured: Covid testing unit in Uxbridge)

But the deadly conflagration has yet to spark.

So far, ‘Freedom Day’ does not appear to have liberated the virus to kill people unchecked — and nor, crucially, does it look likely that any kind of lockdown will have to be reimposed in September, as some have warned. 

In fact, assuming the vaccines continue to work — and allowing for future ‘booster’ shots and tweaking the jabs to deal with new variants — there should be no reason ever to undergo a Covid lockdown again.

All this is exactly the outcome I forecast in early June, when there was a fierce public debate about the potential dangers of relaxing controls.

As a specialist in risk management, I had created a statistical model which I believed could both track the behaviour of the virus and predict what lay ahead.

This model is much simpler than the methods adopted by some of the key Sage members, most notably Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London.

It is based on just three factors: the size of the population, the average time taken by an infected person to pass on the virus and the number of people infected by every person with Covid.

Based on my findings, I argued that Britain would see large case numbers this summer, but far fewer hospitalisations and deaths than during the first two waves.

In an article in the Spectator magazine, I wrote: ‘The NHS should not come close to being overwhelmed. Cases will be mainly among the young, who are far less likely to get seriously sick — so daily deaths will run at a quarter of what they once did before subsiding.’

I added that there was no point in delaying the great unlocking, because Covid-19 had been downgraded to a nasty bug, no more lethal than the flu.

And that is the course that has been followed. If anything, in some areas my model has turned out to be slightly more pessimistic than the welcome reality.

Let me be clear. The decline in new cases is real. Some have asserted that falls in new cases over the past week or so are due to factors including fewer tests being carried out, schools being closed over the summer or people going on holiday.

As well as national case rates coming down, the latest regional data from the Government's coronavirus dashboard appears to show a decline or levelling off in every corner of England. Scientists still don't know what has caused the sharp fall, but suspect it may be several contributing factors

My model has corrected for all of those factors — and it still shows cases falling.

Covid is not yet over, of course. This third wave will continue to see large numbers of people being infected with the virus.

On July 22, about 1.05 million people in England were estimated to have active Covid infections, close to the previous peak in December 2020, when the total reached 1.1 million.

That number may rise significantly higher in the coming weeks, perhaps even approaching two million.

Although that sounds like an alarming number, unlike the past two waves, there is no reason to panic.

Thanks in part to the phenomenal success of Britain’s vaccine programme, the third and current wave of the virus is far less lethal than the previous two, just as my model predicted.

After all, large numbers of these cases are asymptomatic: many people, particularly young and healthy ones, are not aware they even have Covid. 

As for hospitalisations, on July 20, 805 people in England were admitted to hospital with the virus. My model predicts a peak of about 1,000. This is a quarter of the 4,000 daily admissions we saw at the peak of the second wave.

It is the same story with deaths. I forecast an average of 88 deaths per day for the week that has just passed. In the event, I was slightly pessimistic: the recorded average was actually 62.

By mid-August, this rate could rise to some 250 deaths per day, but that would still be barely a fifth of the daily deaths that Britain saw in mid-January at the peak of the second wave — and when about 1,500 people die in Britain every day of all causes.

In the spring, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty suggested that ‘any new surges will meet a wall of vaccinated people’.

He was right. The vaccines have transformed Covid, providing a high degree of protection to the public, particularly to older people who are the most vulnerable to the disease.

SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley said the fall in cases may be partly the result of a dip in testing. Figures show there were 6.8m carried out in the week up to July 22, down by 350,000 on the previous week (4.9 per cent)

Government dashboard data shows Covid case rates were highest among young adults and school-age children. But they were much lower among the over-80s. It is not yet clear which age group is driving the fall in cases

Some scientists have said that Covid cases were dropping in mid-June. There are theories that increased mixing during the tournament fuelled a sustained rise in the country. But infections started to fall ten days after the final

In every age band over 55, the take-up rates have been above 94 per cent, reaching 100 per cent in some cohorts, such as those aged 75 to 79.

Among those most at risk, there has been no ‘vaccine hesitancy’ at all — and the consequences have been obvious. 

In January, all age groups were getting infected equally. Now just one in ten cases occurs among the over-65s.

Younger people are currently less likely to have been vaccinated and are thus more likely to contract the disease. For most of them, fortunately, it will just resemble a bad cold or a bout of flu. This has always been the case.

Combined with the large numbers of people who have had Covid and recovered — or perhaps were not even aware that they had been infected in the first place — the vaccines mean the population of Britain now has remarkably high levels of full immunity . . . perhaps up to some 94 per cent of adults in England.

So, given all this, I do believe it is not too optimistic to hope that the virus has almost run its course in England.

We will never entirely eradicate it — ‘Zero Covid’ will remain a fantasy. But, at least in this country, the worst of the pandemic is long over, and the end is very much in sight.

Philip Thomas is visiting academic professor at Bristol University.

Football news:

Jimmy Greaves died. The best scorer of the English championship was 81 years old
Barcelona wants to sign Holand, Pogba and Olmo next summer
Sulscher on Sancho: We see him as a top striker for Manchester United for the next 10-15 years. He will progress
Leonardo denied that Messi receives 30 million euros a year at PSG: The data is extremely far from reality
Italiano after the 3rd victory in a row: Fiorentina should continue in the same spirit
Forlan is dismissed from the club of the 2nd league of Uruguay. He worked as a coach for 12 rounds
Inzaghi about 6:1 with Bologna: A quick goal made it easier for Inter