Covid: A lack of accurate figures means we have to rely on other, more human, strategies
Recently it's been beginning to feel like 2021 all over again.
Left, right and centre people are succumbing to Covid, with the newer variants apparently fierce on the fatigue side of things, leaving victims wiped out.
Fortunately for them, I'm yet to hear of anyone for whom this latest round needs any more than a day or two off work and some recuperation, but it's definitely a timely reminder that Covid is still here - and probably will be forever. The issue we have, though, is knowing to what extent Covid is back.
Cast your mind back to the days of PCR testing stations popping up in car parks, and being able to collect boxes of little white lateral flow tests for your home. Remember how we diligently scanned the tests' QR codes and entered the results into the Covid app? The data it produced was amazing - neighbourhood level cases recorded. Anyone working in journalism - and particularly local journalism - will have been au fait with the vast array stats updated every day, such as vaccine take-up, new cases, seven-day averages, short and long-term trends... and we soon became adept at comparing areas.
But now... nothing. You may have some tests left over at home but you won't be reporting the results anywhere. Which rather gives the lie to the government stats which currently place Covid cases as being 10.3 per 100,000 people in Wales, 20.6 in England and 29.5 in Scotland. Quite simply, how do they know? I know that statisticians do not invent figures, and population sampling is representative and sophisticated, but with a subject like this the point still stands. It needs concrete data. I'm not advocating going back to testing all the time. The state doesn't have the manpower or the money, the population doesn't have the will and frankly the recent iteration of the disease doesn't warrant it among a vaccinated population. We don't do it for flu and rightly so. However... among the looming warnings of a "twindemic" this winter - the one-two sucker punch that has been talked of by the NHS - and the bringing-forward of this year's booster programme, it's easy to feel a little bit, not sceptical, but perhaps lost by the lack of relatable evidence.
Hospital admissions are still measured, so we know that they are rising at the moment (at the end of August it was 2,722 in England - more than twice the number of occupied beds in mid-July but not a cause for panic as it's still lower than the total for the end of May this year).
The fear is that in a population in which there is a growing anti-state, anti-media, anti-lockdown, "freedom" narrative taking hold among many people, medics' warnings if there is actually a real risk of proper outbreak round the corner will go unheeded.
So what's the answer? Again, as it has been on so many occasions, it's for people to act responsibly. The bulk of population was ahead of Boris Johnson in late winter 2020, already taking sensible precautions when he was airily shaking hands with people who may have had Covid. Mask wearing was adhered to long after it was no longer mandatory, purely because people wanted to look out for both themselves and others. So those with symptoms should isolate and try not to infect others - not for the sake of obeying rules but out of compassion.