The Covid emergency

The Covid emergency

 In a stark intervention reflecting mounting concern over the lack of compliance with lockdown rules, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty this week warned that the UK is entering its “most dangerous” phase of the pandemic. If people refused to stay at home, he said, surging Covid case numbers could overwhelm the NHS within a fortnight. His sobering intervention coincided with news that the UK death toll from the virus had now reached 84,767. On Tuesday, 1,564 people were reported to have died from the virus in the UK – the biggest daily total of the entire pandemic. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident”, saying the virus’s spread was “out of control”. Scotland tightened restrictions on Wednesday.

On a more upbeat note, the Government published its plan to vaccinate tens of millions of people by spring. It said everyone over 70 would be offered a jab by 15 February, all over-50s by April, and all over-18s by autumn. But NHS chiefs cautioned it will take until February before the impact of the 2.4 million jabs administered so far relieves the pressure on hospitals.

Make no mistake, said The Times: Britain is now in the midst of a full-blown emergency. And although vaccination offers a way out, there are “worrying” signs that the Government will miss its target of inoculating 13 million people by mid-February. Meeting it will require over 300,000 injections a day, yet the current daily total is less than half that. The delays are down to a combination of red tape and distribution foul-ups, said The Daily Telegraph. The latter was highlighted last week when Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited a GP surgery to see jabs being administered – only to find that their delivery had been delayed. Let’s hope the deployment of the Army helps “speed things up”.

In many ways, though, the vaccine programme has been a “sparkling success”, said the Daily Mail: Britain had inoculated more people than the whole of the EU (see page 19). But ministers cannot rest on their laurels: tens of millions more vaccinations are needed before normal life can resume. It has been done before, said The Economist. “In 1947, New York City vaccinated five million people against smallpox in two weeks.” There’s no reason to suppose such feats cannot be achieved again.