The Times

Chris Smyth

Gerry Gajadharsingh writes:

“Fear still dominates in many people I talk to. Not surprising when the news is full of doom and gloom! But here is an upbeat article reminding us that significant progress has been made since the dark days of March and April when the lockdown was in full swing. I particularly like point 6, where more and more people are recognising it’s not just antibodies that are going to provide some immunity to the novel coronavirus but just as importantly (perhaps more so), our innate immune system T cell activation. I have previously written about this via my blogs.”

Boris Johnson has cancelled further easing of the lockdown. There are warnings that pubs may have to shut or visits to family and friends be cancelled to ensure that children can return to school next month. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has as good as told us that our present level of freedom is all we can expect until next year.

Thousands are losing their jobs and winter is approaching fast. But in the midst of the gloom, there are some reasons to be cheerful.

1 Infection rates are very low and not rising in most places 
If Covid cases are rising again, the increase is only gentle and largely localised. The Office for National Statistics figures that so spooked Mr Johnson last week showed that new daily cases had doubled since June to 4,200 a day. But the uncertainties in the survey are huge, given how rare coronavirus infections are now. In a sample where only 59 people out of 116,000 swabbed tested positive over six weeks, a case here or there can make a big difference.

Confirmed cases are rising again but from a low base. Across the UK there were fewer than 900 cases a day last week, compared with more than 6,000 at the height of the pandemic, even with many more tests carried out. Swathes of the UK, particularly rural areas and the southwest, have almost no cases.

2 Testing and tracing has got faster
The system has improved markedly since it began. Only 5 per cent of drive-through test results came back within 24 hours of booking in its first week. This is now 59 per cent. Test and Trace is also targeting local areas with high infections better with extra tests and local support. Although there has been a 17 per cent increase in positive tests in the week to July 29 compared with the week before, this is because more tests were being done and focused on hotspots.

Contact tracing systems like that of South Korea are the gold standard but Britain is doing better than some western countries. In New York, for example, only 40 per cent of positive cases give contact information, about half the level here. New Zealand’s system is performing at similar levels to England’s but has had to trace 360 people rather than 250,000.

3 Swift local lockdowns could be working
Since Leicester became the first area to go into local lockdown, infection rates have fallen by two thirds. Extra testing has also brought increases under control in Luton and Bedford. David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s Covid envoy, said Britain “will do really well” because there is “really good attention to where the virus is locally” and a lot of “public engagement in getting on top of it”.

4 Flu may not be such a threat this year
The nightmare scenario of a second wave of coronavirus coinciding with a bad flu season is unlikely. The NHS is planning to vaccinate more than half the population against flu, including all NHS staff. Social distancing measures to fight Covid could also stop flu spreading. In Australia, flu deaths are down more than 90 per cent on last winter.

5 Primary schools do not seem to be a risk
The return of primary schools in June did not seem to have much effect on infection rates and scientific advisers increasingly believe that not only are young children largely spared the worst of the disease, but that they play very little role in transmission.

6 You may be immune even if you don’t have antibodies
Immunity certificates no longer seem feasible and some studies have found that antibodies fade after a few months. However, this does not necessarily mean you will get infected again. “If you have a negative result [on an antibody test] all it means is that you have not had an infection within the past three months,” Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, said. “But that does not mean you are necessarily susceptible. It is quite possible that some degree of immunity lasts longer than the antibody is detectable through something called T cell/cellular immunity, which is much more difficult to measure.”