By Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications
Since the first recorded case, Covid-19 deaths in Britain have surpassed 100,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Independent’s Anthony Cuthbertson highlighted that this tragic milestone is greater than the combined death toll of ‘the Great Plague, the Aids pandemic and every single terror attack and war since 1945’ in the UK.
The ONS announcement saw British twitter users air their frustrations alongside the hashtag ‘#JohnsonHasFailedTheNation’, which eventually trended.
In his briefing on 26 January, Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson said he was ‘deeply sorry for every life lost’, and offered his ‘deepest condolences to all those who grieve.’
Pressure is now on the government to curb the virus’ spread during what the PM described as the coming ‘tough weeks ahead.’
These figures follow discovery of the UK variant in December, dubbed B.1.1.7, which has been identified as more transmissible than previous forms. During a Downing Street briefing the PM revealed it also ‘may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’
While January saw the UK record the world’s highest daily death toll due to Covid-19, the BBC’s health correspondent, Nick Triggle, offered ‘two rays of hope’ amid the gloom and doom. Triggle highlighted a steady decrease in the number of daily reports of new Covid-19 cases: ‘This means that in the coming weeks we should start to see fewer people in hospital and eventually fewer deaths.’ Triggle also mentioned that we are now ‘one step closer to getting on top of the virus’ as the number of vaccinations continue to rise.
The BBC’s Triggle went on further to explain that even with the plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable by mid-February, it is difficult to predict when lockdown restrictions will be eased, given challenges the new, highly virulent variant poses.
Dr Marc Banguekin, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, a subgroup of the government’s SAGE body, warned that premature reopening of Britain’s restaurants and pubs before May could result in a ‘bump in transmission’ of Covid-19 cases and ‘another wave of some extent.’
January also saw Imperial College London put a halt on its efficacy trials for further Covid-19 vaccines and instead switched focus to Ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology to tackle emerging Coronavirus variants. Imperial College’s Professor Robin Shattock told the Independent that as ‘the broader situation has changed, emphasis [is now] rightly placed on mass vaccination.’ Professor Shattock explained that his team is now in the process of developing RNA technology to develop next-generation jabs. He also went on to say these new jabs in development would act as a ‘safety net to catch escape mutations [and] reach variants that other vaccines may not.’
27 January saw Johnson confirm ‘without exception’, that arrivals into Britain from a list of 22 countries, including Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania, will have to quarantine in government approved hotels for ‘10 days’. Dr Gabriel Scally told Al Jazeera English that this policy ‘is very limited… only applying to British nationals, exempting journalists and people coming on business from big companies. They [the government] have no track record of doing these things properly during the entire course of the pandemic.’
For Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, this new plan ‘does not go far enough.’ However, this was a move welcomed by Home Security, Priti Patel, as ‘absolutely essential’. The Home Secretary also said those wishing to travel abroad from the UK will need to fill a form explaining why their travel is necessary, in a bid to clamp down on Britons and residents going on holidays.
The PM also said that the final week of February would ‘steadily [see people] reclaim their lives’ with his ‘roadmap’ to gradually ease restrictions. At the time, he said he was ‘cautious’ to ease restrictions for fears of a ‘surge’ in infections nationwide. He also announced ‘8 March’ as being the earliest date English pupils would be able to resume attending school.
Appearing in front of the Health and Social Care Select Committee on 26 January, NHS England’s boss, Sir Simon Stevens, told members of Parliament his hopes of a return to a ‘much more normal future.’ Stevens warned the initial roll out of vaccines is going to be ‘crucial’, but over the next six to 18 months the virus would become a ‘much more treatable disease.’
Photo caption: Prime Minister Boris Johnson vows ‘greater resolve’ to fight the virus’ spread (Credit: AAP).