MP Damian Hinds: Pandemic ‘tool box’ can be used with speed now

Saturday 22nd January 2022 5:00 pm

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ONE of the most noticeable aspects of the recent response to the pandemic is our ability to react much more quickly and effectively to changing circumstances.

After two years of dealing with Covid, the ‘toolbox’ continues to evolve and expand, but we can now employ the individual tools with much greater confidence and speed.

The enormous amount of data gathered and analysed over that period means we understand so much more about the virus, but also so much more about the impact that different measures have in response.

The need to balance the risk to lives and livelihoods has always been at the heart of decision making, and although these often remain finely judged, we can predict and implement them with so much more surety.

The steps taken in response to the threat of the Omicron were proportionate to both the highly-transmissible nature of the variant and the uncertainly around the severity of illness it could cause. As ever, the science is evolutionary and so is the response.

The Red List status for certain countries and associated quarantine rules has been removed, the need for pre-departure tests has also gone, and fully-vaccinated travellers can now use lateral flow tests for day two tests without the need to self-isolate on arrival.

The self-isolation period for people who test positive has been cut to five full days in England, with people able to leave isolation after negative lateral flow tests on days five and six.

This balances the known risk of transmission with the social and economic need to protect jobs and the key sectors and services that so many people rely on.

100,000 critical workers have also been identified to receive a dedicated supply of free lateral flow tests for every working day for an initial period of five weeks, to ensure they are not self-isolating unnecessarily and to prevent outbreaks at work.

The current Plan B measures – which govern the use of face coverings in most indoor public places, the advice to work from home if possible, demonstrating vaccination status or proof of a negative test result for entry to nightclubs or large-scale events, as well as the use of testing and face coverings in schools – will all be reviewed by January 26.

Commentators believe the UK will soon witness a more fundamental shift from pandemic to endemic; a reality we have been expecting and preparing for.

We have made great strides forward in the development of vaccines, antiviral drugs and therapeutic treatments, the investment in rapid testing technology and capacity, the deployment of social distancing and personal protective measures – and all of these have a role to play in our current and future response to the virus.

Our health agencies and advisers have access to a growing databank that helps them best determine how and when to act, and the priorities for those decisions.

From this week, those aged 16 and 17 are now able to book booster jabs, based on the evidence a booster was shown to prevent about three-quarters of people getting any Covid symptoms.

Expanding the reach of the vaccination programme for 12- to 15-year-olds also continues, with them able to get their first doses at school or at walk-in centres. Parents can also book appointments for their children online.

Pressure on the NHS is also being addressed through a range of measures to try to increase capacity, including the use of virtual wards and monitoring devices to help support more patients at home.

A taskforce has been established to bring together the NHS, local authorities and the social care system to increase the number of people who can be discharged safely from hospital.

We know also the need and value in supporting businesses during the pandemic, including the additional grants provided for those affected by the most recent measures.

Unemployment failed to reach the levels predicted in the early stages of the pandemic, and the number of vacancies continues to demonstrate the strength in many sectors.

It was significant also to see last week that the size of the UK economy had by November recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Although this was ahead of the Omicron wave, it shows the fundamental resilience of the UK economy as we look to build growth during the year ahead.

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