It’s been a long haul, and we’re by no means out of this thing, but yesterday was the very first time since March 2020 when the UK recorded zero coronavirus deaths. Not one. The news comes at a time when we enter the final three weeks of COVID restrictions, at least according to the current official timeline. And we’re just daring to hope that all this might soon be behind us.
Of course let’s douse this moment of elation with an entire cavalcade of caveats. Firstly, and obviously, weekend reporting of deaths is always down on the usual figures, and never more so than on a bank holiday weekend. It’s more than likely we’ll see a bounce in today’s numbers to account for the lower weekend figures (there was only one death reported on Sunday).
There is also the infection rate, which continues to grow relatively fast with the spread of the seemingly more transmissible Indian Variant.
Though the real picture will be somewhat obscured by the intensive testing in some regions hard hit by this particular variant.
The media's coverage is, of course, a rollercoaster to follow...
The media’s coverage is, of course, a rollercoaster to follow. One moment doom-and-gloom merchants, urging immediate lockdowns and then the very next day singing with glee as deaths hit naught. And, as you probably guessed, the answer’s in the middle
But the really good news is in hospitalisations. The data here isn’t as subject to yo-yo effect of bizarre reporting patterns like death rates or to the distortions of surge testing as with infections. Hospitalisations data is daily and reliable, and admissions are still coming down.
We're seeing a decline in hospitalisations again, and this will most likely continue to be reflected in the death rates going forward...
Even though there’s an average lag of around nine days between infection and hospitalisation, if the Indian Variant was going to be a huge issue then you’d expect to now be seeing a sharp uptick in people being taken to hospital now.
Not only is that not the case, we’re seeing a decline in hospitalisations again, and this will most likely continue to be reflected in the death rates going forward.
Which, of course, is all down to the very successful vaccination programme which is now responsible for over 60% of the population being single vaccinated and over a third currently fully-vaxxed, remarkable figures with a clear real-world effect.
So what does this all mean for the planned final phase of opening up that ministers are planning in just three weeks time?
It seems that the vaccines are doing their job incredibly well. Despite the Kent Variant being rapidly displaced by the Indian Variant as the dominant strain of COVID, it seems that the vaccines are doing their jobs and keeping people out of hospital, one of the main four tests.
The other tests, that there are no new scary variants of concern (we seem to have the measure of the Indian Variant and scientists seem less concerned as the vaccines are clearly effective against it), that the vaccine programme is going well (it is) and that they’re working (they are) all point to further relaxation. No decision will be made for another fortnight, on 14th June, but it looks positive.
And it’s also noteworthy that the demand for the jabs remains very high. My 23 year-old colleague Megan queued along with thousands for over three hours at Twickenham Stadium for a walk-in injection this weekend.
In West Virginia they’re actually offering free guns as an incentive for people to get jabbed (only in America, right?) but here people are willing to queue in Disneyland style endless queues to get their treatment.
So anyone sick of wearing a mask, of social distancing or longing to go to gigs and nightclubs will be hanging on the government’s next decision. And while ministers and government scientists will be pouring over the data, there are early signs that things are going the right way and we will indeed be able to put this broadly behind us on 21st June.
In any event, a day with zero deaths is a significant milestone to have past. Here’s to plenty more…