Coronavirus levels are down – but just how optimistic should we be?

The signs are getting more positive by the day. But the question remains – are we really coming to the end of the coronavirus nightmare?

Crowds at a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool as part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP) on May 2, 2021. Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Crowds at a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool as part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP) on May 2, 2021. Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Virus levels are dropping off and vaccines have helped break the link between infection and death.

Every fatality is a tragedy, but while almost 2,000 were dying per day at the height of the crisis, the figure now is often in single figures.

And with every shot in the arm, another blow is given to a virus that relies on transmission to survive.

There remains, however, the unknown factor of a possible third wave arriving after another summer of freedom.

And hospital trusts across the region are preparing for the worst, with inevitable peaks to come in the future.

Infection levels across the West Midlands, Shropshire and Staffordshire are now at levels last seen last summer. Not one area in our region currently has a rate above 23 per 100,000.

The debate now is just how optimistic should we be about the future, as we await further relaxation of lockdown rules next Monday.

We have already been given a glimpse of the future with recent test nightclub and concert events in Liverpool.

And the government’s departing vaccine taskforce chief Clive Dix has given a very upbeat assessment.

Mr Dix, who was appointed as interim leader of the taskforce in December and stepped down last week, said it was his belief there would be no circulating virus “sometime in August”.

He also said he expects everyone in the UK to have been vaccinated at least once by the end of July, by which time “we’ll have probably protected the population from all the variants that are known”.

“We’ll be safe over the coming winter,” he added.

More than 35 million people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said scientists are looking at a range of options for an autumn vaccine booster programme to protect against a third wave of the virus.

But Mr Dix said he believed this could be pushed back to early 2022.

He said: “We may decide that we need to boost the immune response, and we’ve got the vaccine to do that. Whether we’ll need to or not, I would think probably not, but we might still do it in case.

“I really don’t think it should be autumn. We should be thinking about boosting in maybe January or February, because the immune response will be strong.”

Another expert, Professor Sir John Bell, said the nation was in a “very strong position” to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to “try and get back to normal”.

Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine said the prospect of people being able to hug their loved ones again was “great”.

Asked about the next phase of the Government’s road map, which will allow more mixing indoors, he said: “I think we’ll still probably go steady but perhaps a bit faster. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at the moment.”

He said that data from vaccination programmes from the UK, Israel and the US shows a “rather rapid fall-off” in cases of disease, hospital admissions and deaths after rising numbers of people were given their first dose of vaccine.

“There’s some very interesting data that shows that even from a single dose of vaccine, when you move from where the US was a couple of weeks ago, which was about 43 per cent of people having a single dose through where we were with 51 per cent – we’re now higher than that to Israel, which was 58 per cent.

“You see a rather rapid fall-off in cases of disease, but also hospitalisations and deaths, and it’s a really very striking fall in all those things.

Crowds at a music festival in Sefton Park in Liverpool as part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP) on May 2, 2021. Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“I do think that we’re in a very strong position to go forward now with fewer restrictions and try and get back to normal.”

New variants still pose a danger. They can arrive from countries where vaccine levels are lower and where the virus can develop and become more effective. The tragic situation in India is an example of the devastating effect coronavirus can have when allowed to spread.

Hospitals across the West Midlands are now seeing very few Covid patients coming through their doors and deaths are thankfully very low compared to just a few weeks ago.

But that doesn’t mean they can relax. Planning is in place already for a third wave. It is hoped vaccines will protect the population from serious illness if the virus returns, but there are no guarantees.

Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust has revealed it has plans in place for late summer or early autumn.

Richard Beeken, interim chief executive, told the trust’s board that there will be “periodic peaks” of coronavirus.

Coupled with the loosening of lockdown, he said that could see case rates “take hold” – and urgan areas of the West Midlands could be harder hit than other areas.

He said: “In life after Covid, we are preparing for – as paradoxical as this may sound – more Covid.

“What I mean by that is we can see across the globe, there are going to be periodic peaks and troughs, as different variants, or the effect of loosening the handbrake, with regard to lockdown arrangements, takes hold in terms of incidents rates in the population.

“And we know in the Black Country and west Birmingham system, in particular, the unique employment profile in this part of the world, and the unique socio-demographics .means that we are likely to be as hard hit, if not more so, than most areas.

“We are contingency planning for a late summer, early autumn, spike of some kind in Covid, associated with the loosening of lockdown rules.

“And then rolling that forward into effective winter planning, so that we can provide a safe, acute, hospital and community service during the course of the coming winter, whether or not there is a peak of Covid to manage during that period.”

"We are contingency planning for a late summer, early autumn, spike of some kind in Covid, associated with the loosening of lockdown rules.

"And then rolling that forward into effective winter planning, so that we can provide a safe, acute, hospital and community service during the course of the coming winter, whether or not there is a peak of Covid to manage during that period."

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