“Let them eat cake,” is a quote commonly attributed to Marie-Antoinette, the queen of France during the French Revolution. As the story goes, it was the queen’s response upon being told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread, and it is cited as an example of the disregard by the leaders of the country to the lives of ordinary people. Is this happening in the UK with Covid?
Vaccines, our only protection, are being scaled back. The immunocompromised still have no authorised drugs to protect them; few people qualify for anti-viral treatments (and even if you do, they are very hard to obtain). Additionally, there are plans to sell off a site earmarked for future vaccine manufacture but in other places – those inhabited by the wealthy and privileged – things are very different!
Why are VIPs protecting themselves?
What do they know that we don’t? The evidence continues to mount up that the impact of Covid is going to be long-term and we may not know its extent on damage to health for many years.
The ONS recently published a report estimating that 1.9 million people (2.9% of the population) were experiencing long Covid; of these 62,000 are children. These figures are rising with a clear impact on the labour market. The highest professions recorded as suffering long Covid are teachers, health and social care workers.
More and more scientific evidence is published about the impact of Covid on major organs and our immune system. Recent scientific evidence concludes that reinfection increases the chance of developing long Covid and other post infection impacts – a recent clinical study in Nature Medicine concluded “compared to no reinfection, reinfection contributed additional risks of death … hospitalisation… and sequelae (a pathological condition resulting from a prior disease) including pulmonary, cardiovascular, hematological, diabetes, gastrointestinal, kidney, mental health, musculoskeletal and neurological disorders. The risks were evident regardless of vaccination status”.
It needs to be publicly acknowledged that the ‘let it rip’ approach most Western governments have taken to the pandemic has significant long term consequences – the increasing burden of chronic ill health in adults and children; an adverse impact on school attendance, learning and education; worsening workforce shortage in education, health and care sectors; increasing cost of sickness cover; burnout of the remaining workforce and worsening staff retention.
So are the VIPs are onto something?
How are the VIPs protecting themselves?
At the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, four layers of protection were strictly in place. Firstly, every attendee had to test at one of the onsite centres – no test, no badge to access the venue. Good ventilation was achieved by opening windows so many delegates were seen wearing coats, masks were worn in all large gatherings and air filters were seen in every public space.
Similarly, at the Oscars this year, strict Covid testing was enforced. Hollywood superstars, as well as reporters, were not allowed into the venue without a negative test – even stars who tested positive were not permitted to attend. Some Hollywood stars, like Jessica Chastain, wore masks.
In the UK it has recently come to light that both the Houses of Parliament and the Ministry of Defence have had their ventilation systems upgraded to clean the air of airborne viruses. And the President of the USA is also well protected with Irish MPs and senators asked to take a Covid test if attending Joe Biden’s address.
So whose responsibility is it?
Covid is an airborne virus. It’s relatively simple to reduce the chance of being infected – we need to reduce the build-up of the virus in indoor spaces (indeed all airborne viruses and pollutants) by improving ventilation and filtering the air. The easiest way is to open windows in any indoor space and filter the air – you can even build your own DIY filter relatively cheaply.
But surely we should be demanding more? Maybe we should expect our government to provide the ‘cake’?
Many governments around the world are investing in clean air for their whole population – but not the UK. The US government is providing hundreds of billions of dollars to improve indoor air quality, including $350bn for state and local governments, as well as $122bn for schools. Australia has announced investment in air filters for schools and the Illinois state Government has just announced the purchase of 60,000 air filters for better air quality in our classrooms so students can better think, learn, and thrive.
Unlike other countries, the UK government is not even telling the public how to protect themselves anymore. We see very few – if any – effective public health messaging; certainly nothing as informative as examples like this from the World Health Organization Philippines
“There may still be surprises”
Worse still, the Government has chosen to stop collecting data so we no longer have any idea about the level of Covid in the UK at any one time, or in any region.
We used to have a robust wastewater surveillance programme across England, but it was axed back in March 2022. The ONS infection survey, widely regarded as ‘world leading’ and ‘the gold standard’ was ‘paused’ at the end of March 2023. Why? If you don’t measure it, do people believe it does not exist? You certainly cannot manage the risk to the public without the data.
So as yet another more infectious variant, Arcturus, arrives in the UK with particular symptoms in children, surely we need robust information now? Prof Sir Jeremy Farrar, once a key member of the Government’s scientific advisory body Sage and from earlier this year, chief scientist at the World Health Organisation – an enormously influential figure in global health – warns “There may still be surprises”.
So why isn’t the UK government doing what many other governments are doing to protect their citizens? The most basic duty of a government is to protect its people, or at least share out the cake equally.