Variants Plus Plus

There is something of a Little Prince telling the sun to shut on or off about some businesspersons in the UK (and some politicians) demanding to 'open up' and let the travel and summer fun let rip. Such robust calls for less government control of 'our lives' seems based on the conviction, in some circles, that the government enjoys controlling people and limiting the opportunities for businesses to thrive, or that they have badly misread the scientific evidence. Whether this is wishful thinking, wilful blindness, or cynical agitprop, is unclear.

When a nightclub owner or airline boss wants masses to get together again to generate revenue for a failing business, it is reasonable to understand their wish for cash influx, but less certain this person represents objective, disinterested 'common sense' let alone, the latest science.

As many have noted you cannot 'follow the science' because science is multiple, but one thing 'science' is, which business is not, is designed to test exceptionally complex real-world events against various seriously-held theories, to strive for ever-clearer 'truth'. I don't see Pepsi or Mobil Oil operating on quite that level, let alone the local pub chain. Business, like the infamous 'mayor from Jaws' always has to have one eye on the bottom like: profit. It is show business, not show friend, after all...

This means the government has to balance three things at any one time: the reported facts and predictions, somewhat contested by various scientists and doctors; the needs of business and the wider community for more freedom, such as church choirs wish for; and the ethical trade-off between those two, sometimes called the 'live with it' balance.

The UK government has been moving to the 'live with it' default position since, maybe, March 2020, or sooner; and constantly shifts back to the most open version of their regulatory options, whenever the data seems to warrant it (the maligned eat out to help out last summer); keeping borders open and letting the Delta variant in, happened partly out of a need to keep Britain functioning as a global trading nation with open borders and if UK business collapsed completely, so too would the government, and the NHS.

But vice versa: had the pandemic spread too far and fast in March 2020, it would have toppled the NHS, thus the government and business - you can't sell cars to dead people.

So, the current refusal to 'end all restrictions' on June 21, has arisen because the balance between the needs of health and wealth, always linked, are also now finely positioned at a  tipping point - opening too fast would lead to a huge surge; over-caution could strangle the recovery in its bed.

If anything, commentators calling for us to all get back to normal have missed the fact that the virus is real, and evolves. The miracle of the British vaccination drive is not an impermeable giant wall that never collapses. Even the most optimistic tests indicate two jabs leaves only 90% protected - and that 10% can still be hospitalised and die. I know of no influenza virus since 1918 that could kill or hospitalise 5 million adults within a few months.

How can we ever 'open up' and act 'like it is just a 'flu' when such opening up might inevitably lead to a third or fourth wave that can still demolish all gains, and leave us as if at April 2020?

By looking the facts squarely in the eye, fearlessly, and forming policies based not on the wish for a sunny rich summer and autumn, but the real need to retain some protective measures until more treatments can be developed (and they are months away) to keep the Covid-struck out of hospitals in droves. Because when the oxygen runs out even the relatively healthy die, as in India.

I am sure this sounds alarmist - and that is intentional - because you don't turn off the alarms until everyone is safely out of the building.

Delta Plus and Lambda are two new variants now recognised this week by the WHO - and both seem more virulent and less vaccine-controlled than even Delta. 33% of American adults - about 100 million people - refuse to have any vaccine - and Delta could kill a lot of them, in the next few months, as it begins to spread there.

I am sure of only one thing this year - uncertainty. But I am relatively certain that even if July 19th is a temporary 'no more restrictions' day - we could see a new peak by October-November awful enough to require another Christmas-March lockdown of some kind, accounting for the actual flu to return and for a more deadly variant to emerge and dominate. Several scientists predict Delta is structured to mutate to Delta-plus. Pray not.

But don't ask the government to turn the sun on for more BBQ sales. That's unscientific.



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