Recently, Matt Hancock, MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, updated the House of Commons in the United Kingdom (UK) on the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Secretary Hancock started off with positive news, that is the UK emergency use authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and that the UK health system is now executing on a nationwide vaccination program. Less than a year since the onset of the pandemic, the fact that a vaccine with a measured 95% effective rate was produced is the result of many dedicated healthcare and scientific professionals working tirelessly to combat this pathogen on the behalf of humanity. But the situation turns ominous as not only has SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, started to spread at rising rates in select areas in the UK, but that a new strain has been identified in the UK (and elsewhere). They are not certain if this new variant is the only culprit for the rise in cases but regardless, in the UK they are not leaving anything to chance. New rules will enforce shutdowns and various social restrictions in high risk areas in the UK known as “Tier 3.” Although there is no reason to believe that the existing emergency approved vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 won’t be effective on this new COVID-19 variant, nothing can be taken for granted and the UK now embarks on painful measures that again will adversely impact the small business sector. In the U.S., the political class will have to overcome their differences and incessant squabbling and create intelligent relief packages to help those struggling economically for the duration of this brutal pandemic.
As cases of COVID-19 rise in select areas, such as southern Wales, London, Essex and elsewhere, hospitals become dangerously close to capacity. The NHS itself is at risk of getting pushed to the limit if the cases of COVID-19 double a few times more, reported Secretary Hancock, who presented the case to the House of Commons.
For example, average daily hospital admissions are up 13% while the new case rate has spiked by 14%. Although there is great relief that the UK has embarked on a wide scale vaccination program, led by the NHS, the virus is just too dangerous to let the guard down in the UK. These cases lead to a certain number of hospitalizations, which of course threaten the capacity of the acute care infrastructure and lead to more deaths.
Thanks to the UK’s world class genomic scientific capabilities this new identified variant could well be contributing to the spread. Will this new variant escape the vaccine’s protective capabilities? Secretary Hancock didn’t want to go there and declared that there is no reason to assume that the vaccine won’t work on this new strain. But what if novel strains are different enough to trick the existing vaccine? Pfizer/BioNTech and health authorities should breakdown to national populations the facts, including the risks. Transparent and engaging government and companies will lead to greater levels of trust and engagement back from populations.
In the meantime, in the UK’s so-called Tier-3 areas, that is high risk COVID-19 areas, areas in London, Essex and elsewhere, populations must now face stricter measures including the shut down of establishments such as restaurants, gyms and the like. Moreover, in addition to the rule of six strict social distancing, masks, etc., friends and family meetings, even with just a handful of people, will be limited to outside areas.
COVID-19 is weighing heavily on human societies around the world. Everyone must do their part to stop the spreading of this contagion and governments, such as in the United States, will need to support the people with relief measures. Too many small businesses are getting wiped out. The political class will have to stop incessant squabbling and start doing its job–the people and small business needs help immediately.