London Eye: Britain juggles impossible opposites

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The British government is looking to rescue lifestyle and with it the economy, from COVID-19 through a lifting of the lockdown from Monday next week. But the move is turning out to be more confusing than liberating.

London Eye: Britain juggles impossible opposites
Britain is deluged by a flood of contrary requirements that are becoming impossible to reconcile or even to figure out. The government is looking to rescue lifestyle and with it the economy, from COVID-19 through a lifting of the lockdown from Monday next week. But the move is turning out to be more confusing than liberating.
Britain is the first country to be lifting a lockdown when cases are rising and rising fast. Upwards of 42,000 new cases were reported Wednesday, up from about 7,500 a month back. It’s the rise in hospitalisations that’s more worrying. That number is climbing steadily, if not as steeply as the number of cases. But the numbers in hospitals are still now approaching 4,000. Some hospital chiefs say already that they are struggling to cope.
The intended liberation is no doubt meant for people chafing under restrictions for more than a year now. More, it’s intended for businesses to, well, get back into the business. The government, no government, has endless supplies of money to hand out to the populace to rest at home indefinitely. Not all work can be from home, and when it is, it does hurt attendant business around offices.
Just how hard this step towards normalcy as it was known to be can hit business is becoming apparent already. More than 700 staff at the Nissan factory in Sunderland, the biggest car factory in the UK, have gone off work into isolation at home following a COVID-19 outbreak. That’s about 20 percent of the workforce. More absences are expected. Production schedules have been changed as a result.
What’s happening at Nissan is happening across the board. An estimated quarter of the workforce is off work. Not many among them have reported Covid; they are off work because of warnings through a nationwide app that they may have come into contact with someone who had Covid. Given that, they are bound by law to self-isolate for a period of ten days. Such isolation is required even if those reported to have come into contact with Covid patients report no symptoms.
Given the rising infections, the number of such people are expected to go up. Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said Britain should expect to face 100,000 new cases reported daily in August. Multiplied into contacts and their further contacts, the workforce is due to shrink further just as the liberation comes into effect intended to get these very people back into work.
A reversal of the present policy is due only from August 16. From that date, double vaccinated people will not be required to isolate if they come in contact with a Covid patient. Businesses have been telling the government that they must bring forward that date to next week itself when restrictions are lifted.
Vaccine gaps
The government’s policy, some say gamble, is that very many more people would have been double vaccinated by mid-August that would then make lifting of the isolation requirement safe. Or as safe as can be, and not everyone is as confident as Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounds about that.
The link between infections and hospitalisations has been “severed” following the extensive vaccination, he said. But gaps are opening up in the vaccine safety net. Israel is amongst the first countries to have covered most of its population with the vaccine—it double-jabbed with Pfizer. The Israeli health ministry says that vaccination appears to offer only about 64 percent protection. That leaves on average one in three vaccinated people getting infected.
The second line of defence through the vaccine is that those infected past the vaccination won’t get the infection bad. Of that there is a likelihood, but far less than any certainty. A significant number of the double vaccinated who have been infected have ended up in the hospital, and there have been some deaths among them too.
Those percentages are small, and protection from the vaccines considerable. A recent survey from Public Health England suggests that of those hospitalised, a third had been vaccinated. Less than 10 percent died and among them only a third more than 14 days after their second dose.
As absolute numbers go up, these fractions will inevitably become larger. That is a loss the government has decided to live with; Boris Johnson has said the number of deaths is “sadly” set to rise. But that presupposes the trend remains the same; with Covid it never has. A rise in infections could mean more, not less absence from work, despite the changes due August 16.
— London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around.

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