By: Stuart White 15-07-2021
A NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK
In a worsening pandemic situation in Botswana this week the President ordered all schools to close until late August. Cases have risen alarmingly recently and there is clear evidence that many infections are being spread in the home and surrounding community from schoolchildren who can be carriers, though they rarely show severe, if any, symptoms themselves. In the same week the GPH issued a notice advising they were at full Covid capacity and could no longer accept any further admissions so it is clearly becoming a situation hard to control. The president also stated it was the government’s aim to have the entire population fully vaccinated by December 2022 but that seems a long way hence and a slow roll-out in a country with a population of only around 2 million.
Over in Europe the situation is still fluid. In France protesters in Paris were this week tear- gassed during violent demonstrations against France's new Covid laws making jabs compulsory for health workers and demanding vaccine passports for bars and restaurants. Hundreds of cafe owners, hospital workers and parents took to the French capital on Bastille Day to rebel against President Macron's controversial plans to tackle the nation's surging coronavirus cases. In April he had promised vaccine passports would 'never be used to divide' the French. But, by mid-July, he is demanding concerts, hospitality venues and more to check for proof of vaccination status or a negative PCR test in a bid to boost the nation's vaccination rates. Restrictions will expand by August, meaning those wanting a beer in a bar, families going out for dinner, public transport passengers and care home visitors will all require proof of a negative test or vaccine. On September 15, it will become mandatory for healthcare workers and carers to receive a coronavirus vaccine - with threats of termination of employment should they refuse.
Meanwhile in the UK, whilst Monday 19th July is being touted as ‘Freedom Day’, the list of dos and don’ts from the government is causing confusion countrywide. Documents released online just days before the unlocking suggest workplaces keep social distancing measures like plastic screens and back-to-back desks in a bid to placate nervous workers. Businesses should consider keeping staff wearing masks indoors even after lockdown ends, according to new government Covid guidance released tonight. They appear to suggest firms introduce 'fixed teams or partnering' to reduce the threat from coronavirus spreading through their workforce, - which has echoes of Covid bubbles in place in this year's full lockdown. Table service in pubs and widespread working from home should also continue, the guidance suggests.
The guidance appears likely to set the scene for furious battles between employers and their staff in the days and weeks ahead about how often they can return to their primary workplace and how it should be set up. It tells bosses: 'You should discuss a return to the workplace with workers, and trade unions to make working arrangements that meet both business and individual needs……Employers and others must continue to follow statutory health and safety requirements, conduct a risk assessment, and take reasonable steps to manage risks in their workplace or setting.'
Unions and employers hit out at the guidance with a warning that it is a 'recipe for chaos'.
Moving across the pond to the USA, guidelines vary greatly from state to state but overall restrictions are being relaxed. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott on May 17 signed an executive order that bans government entities in the state from requiring face masks. Abbott said it's time to "open Texas 100%" and ended the state-wide mask order, citing declining hospitalizations across the state as more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus. And in the capital Washington DC, capacity restrictions on most indoor activities were lifted May 21, including restaurants, schools and offices. Bars, nightclubs and entertainment venue restrictions were removed June 11. These were the last remaining restrictions in the District.
There is a worldwide lack of uniformity in tackling the disease and what amounts to little more than trial and error. Travel restrictions and regulations make foreign travel a nightmare and only for the thrill seeker since arrival and departure regulations and requirement in different countries change almost on a daily basis. Many travellers have found themselves caught short being in the wrong place at the wrong time and have been left stranded in austere Covid hotels paying extortionate rates for the dubious privilege of being imprisoned for a couple of weeks, their only crime being they needed to visit another country.
As for the mask farce and the great lockdown debate, it is estimated that up to 60,000 people could die from the ‘flu in England this winter in a worst-case scenario. It is feared the nation will suffer one of the worst influenza outbreaks in decades due to Covid lockdowns causing a huge drop in immunity against other viruses. According to the report by the Academy of Medical Sciences, modelling of how bad influenza could strike says the death toll could be twice as bad as normal (‘flu typically kills between 10 to 30,000 people annually). As to respiratory infections such as tonsillitis, mask-wearing hugely exacerbates the effects by recycling the infection for the wearer and restricting access to fresh air.
What all this boils down to is that the only deal-breaker is vaccination. In the UK, just over half the adult population has now been double-jabbed and statistics are showing a clear breaking of the link between vaccination numbers and infection rates as well as the severity of symptoms and potential death rate. This is also borne out by stats in the USA. According to the Associated Press Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.
It is my fervent hope that Botswana is able to speed up its slow vaccination programme and ups its acquisition and distribution as a matter of urgency. Covid will likely be with us for many a long year but should be controllable with a single, annual booster jab
And once that is sorted, perhaps our economy and those around the world, will also have a similar and much-needed shot in the arm so that we can all breathe a sigh of relief and get back to life.