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Why this Second Wave will be nothing like the first.
Leading scientific opinion now declares that the UK is experiencing a ‘second wave’ of Coronavirus. New cases are the highest they have been since the end of Spring, after a summer ‘lull’ in disease spread. [BBC].
The words of an impending second spike became distant muffles as Brits enjoyed an almost-normal six weeks of summer. So what does this ‘second wave’ mean. Is it time for grocery hauling, toilet paper shortages, daily news briefings, and long walks in the park?
The short answer may be no. A lot has changed since the UK first braced for Coronavirus that tipped the balance of favour against full-scale lockdown. We know how the symptoms tend to appear. We know that children are not particularly vulnerable to the virus. We know that face masks are a good way to reduce transmission. We know that Brits listen to the rules on staying at home quite readily. [Daily Mail].
Mass, community-based testing is now a reality. The ONS runs a weekly survey on a sample of the community to detect the trajectory of COVID in near real time, which is a tool that would have been game changing back in March to experts who were could only guess at the true spread of the virus. The UK processes around 250,000 COVID tests per day, and is continually expanding capacity.
Mass testing allows for those who test positive to self-isolate, breaking the onward chain of transmission decisively. It also lets those who have symptoms but do not test positive to return to normal activities. In February and March, a mass testing programme might have been a tool powerful enough to let the UK avoid a full lockdown entirely.
Testing forms part of a larger argument that the UK has successfully leveraged technology to put us in a much, much better position. We knew in March that it was important to expand the volume of PPE available to NHS staff. We now know that the careful distribution of PPE (masks, gowns, visors, hand gel, protection kits) according to real time and predicted demand will be crucial to avoiding bottlenecks. Whitehall has invested in data tools to help model the demand for PPE across the UK, in a bid to streamline the logistics of delivering millions of items per day. [Gov.UK].
It was also important to build a platform for contact tracing — a strategy that proved its worth in South Korea and New Zealand. The NHS has recently launched its contact tracing app, downloaded by more than 10 million people within a week of being made available. [Sky News].
The UK’s various strategic advances have prompted many to commend the government’s actions. “We’re in a much better position than we were at the start of the pandemic,” said the geneticist Andrew Beggs, who currently runs testing at the University of Birmingham.
But there are still many unknowns as we approach the winter period. It is not known precisely how the change in season will affect the spread of the virus. Nor is it obvious if, when, and how a vaccine could be made available to the British public. Notwithstanding, the UK of October 2020 should feel more confident in its ability to get on top of the Coronavirus. Preliminary reports by the ONS that COVID might even be the very first indication that we’re turning the tide on the second wave. [ONS].
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