Sir John Bell, a leading member of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team, has called on the government to hold its nerve and stick to lifting remaining social restrictions on June 21, rather than delaying reopening the economy further because of the threat of new variants.
Sir John’s words came as figures from the Office for National Statistics [ONS] revealed that 40 per cent of recently registered Covid deaths in England and Wales were people who died primarily from another condition.
In the week ending May 21, 2021, 107 Covid deaths were registered, with 66 of them [61.7 per cent] recorded with the virus as the underlying cause of death. Among the remaining cases, Covid was not listed as a major cause of fatality despite being mentioned on the relevant death certificates.
It is the lowest number of deaths recorded with Covid as the underlying cause since the week ending March 13, 2020, the very first week that deaths involving the virus were registered in England and Wales, when five deaths were recorded.
The ONS has been recording those who have died with Covid - but not as the primary cause of death - in official numbers, although the World Health Organization [WHO] has advised that they should not be classified as Covid deaths in official figures, The Telegraph reports.
The data indicates that despite cases of the so-called Indian variant of Covid rising in the UK, it is not causing any major increase in deaths. Indeed, Tuesday [June 1] saw the government announce the first day with zero Covid deaths for the first time since before the first national lockdown in March 2020.
This, combined with the fact that cases and hospital admissions are dropping in Indian variant hotspots, has prompted Sir John Bell to call on the government to press on with the June 21 freedom date.
Sir John, a professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio Four: “If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant, we're going to spend a long time huddled away.”
Sir John added that the virus is likely “here to stay forever”, dismissing the practicality of a “Zero Covid” approach. He also shared his view that the government should instead focus on managing “hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths” instead of cases.
Weekly ONS data suggests that Covid is mentioned in 1.1 per cent of all deaths, the lowest levels recorded since September 11, 2020 [one per cent]. At the peak of the second Covid wave, in the week ending January 29, 2021, this figure was as high as 45.7 per cent.
Emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, Professor Kevin McConway, has said that the UK’s successful vaccination rollout means that any sustained increase in Covid cases is no longer translating to increased hospitalisations and deaths as it has previously in the pandemic when a working vaccine was not in circulation.
Prof McConway is quoted by The Telegraph as saying: “Earlier in the pandemic, any sustained increase in new cases or hospital admissions would lead inevitably to increases in deaths a few weeks later. That process won't occur in the same way now, because of the effect of vaccination on reducing serious illness, though it's not yet entirely clear what the new pattern might be or how new variants might play a role.”