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Waiting for it to get worse before we take action isn’t the best way to handle it, doctors say

By Ashish Joshi, health correspondent

The pressure is increasing with every new infection but the government says it will not be push the button on Plan B. The prime minister says his scientific advisors warned him that this is exactly where were we would as we approach winter.

Today we have recorded 50, 000 new cases for the first time in three months. Yesterday the health secretary warned that we could see 100,000 cases a day.

We know that increased cases means increased hospitalisations. We are seeing that already.

We know too that increased hospitalisations means increased deaths. Sadly we are seeing that too. But, and here’s the crucial thing as far as Boris Johnson is concerned. We are not, thankfully, seeing the same number of people dying in the way they did during the first and second waves.

The reason is because of the vaccine. And that is why the government will not introduce interventions like compulsory face masks. It wants to move forward. Reintroducing NPIs (non pharmaceutical interventions) will delay the country’s economic recovery.

But health workers say the government has not factored in several crucial factors. Yes, they agree, it is true the vaccine is working to protect people from falling very ill and dying but vaccine immunity may be starting to wane. They point to Scotland where there is recent data to support this.

Also this winter is going to be the first where we have COVID with flu and other seasonal respiratory illnesses circulating together. A bad winter with just one of these can be devastating enough.

Then there’s the growing waiting list and urgent treatment that has to continue. All to this while hospitals give up more bed space and staff to COVID patients.

No surprise then that morale is so low among NHS staff. They are understandably exhausted and dreading what the winter is threatening to bring.

So while they are looking at the bigger picture and the pressure that will bring on the health service the prime minister may choose to focus on a narrower set of data that tells him it is not as bad right now as it has been. He accepts this might change very suddenly. We have seen this happen before.

But what senior doctors are asking is, why wait? In the words of one senior ICU consultant, “I’m pretty certain that there is no emergency where waiting for it to get worse before we take any action is the best way to handle it”.

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