Positive covid cases in Croydon up by one-third in a week, as senior adviser warns that government’s slow, ‘wait and see’ approach is ‘biggest mistake you can make in a pandemic’
The discovery of a case of the Omicron variant of covid-19 in Sutton was announced at the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s televised national briefing last night – before the government advised the local council’s public health officials of the serious development.
The absence of a coordinated, joined-up response to what appears to be a rapidly deteriorating situation was revealed in a note to Sutton councillors from Imran Choudhury, the borough’s director of public health.
“We were informed by the [UK Health Security Authority] this evening of a confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a Sutton resident,” Choudhury wrote.
“Unfortunately we were informed of the test result only after it was mentioned in a national press briefing which followed today’s briefing by the Prime Minister.
“The resident is well, self-isolating and I am confident that all steps are being taken to trace and test close contacts.”
Sutton Council’s official statement on the position, which was issued after the councillors’ briefing, stated, “We are aware of a confirmed case of the Omicron variant in Sutton.
“We are working closely with health protection experts at the UKHSA to ensure that the individual concerned is supported to self-isolate at home and that all appropriate actions to identify close contacts and arrange testing are completed.”
The Sutton case is one of 22 Omicron positives reported in England and Scotland so far, as health officials scramble to contain the spread of this new variant, while the country’s borders and airports have remained open to travellers arriving from southern Africa, where it was first identified.
Other cases have been reported in Westminster (two), Wandsworth, Barnet (two), Brentwood, Camden (two) and Haringey, as well as in Liverpool, Norfolk and Nottingham.
The spread of this variant has already prompted a state-wide health emergency to be declared in New York, while in Germany warnings have been issued because almost all the country’s intensive care unit beds are in use.
Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of UKHSA, said last night, “We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.
“Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay.
“Please make sure to wear a mask in line with government guidance, including on public transport and in shops, to help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.
“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.
“That’s why it’s critical that anyone with covid-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”
But other government advisers are critical of the slow response to Omicron.
Professor Susan Michie, a member of SAGE, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told Byline Times that the government’s wait-and-see approach is the “biggest mistake you can make in a pandemic”. And not for the first time.
Yesterday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons, “Our strategy is to buy ourselves time… while we learn more about its potential threat.”
Such delays to implement additional measures could lead to thousands of extra deaths, Prof Michie said. “What the World Health Organisation’s Doctor Mike Ryan has said is that this is exactly the biggest mistake you can make in a pandemic, which is to wait until there is certainty.
“If you wait until there is certainty, it’s too late.
“They have been behind the curve on many occasions and behind what many other countries are doing. It’s nothing new, but what I think is more stark is they’re not learning from our own experience.
“They didn’t listen to the WHO on acting fast and hard, and now they’re not learning from this country’s own experience, which is that delaying measures has cost thousands of lives.
“What does it matter if after two or three weeks we find days out this isn’t the big threat that we thought it might be?
“As it is, we are losing up to a thousand people a week.
“A thousand people a week are dying.
“Would we say that’s fine if that was happening in any other area of our lives?”
Latest government figures for Croydon, to November 30, show 1,393 positive cases of covid-19 reported in the previous seven days – up 33 per cent on the immediately preceding seven-day period.
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