It only takes one

By Ken Park, Clinical director

Recent announcements from the UK Government and devolved administrations mean we are now seeing the most significant lifting of restrictions yet across the country with indoor socialising allowed, and even hugging.

This means the focus is increasingly on the role of vaccines to keep infection levels low. The UK has benefited from both fast rollout and good uptake. Currently, a third of the adult population is fully vaccinated, with another third having had one dose.

Despite the success of the vaccine roll out, one simple fact should guide our behaviour – the risk of infection with COVID is related to amount of close contact we have with other people. Complacency at this stage could be everyone’s enemy.

None of us know if we are infective or if the person standing next to us is – often infection is passed from asymptomatic individuals.  This was the hard learnt lesson of last year and it is as pertinent now as it was after the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year when the Gloucestershire town went from one case to 35 within two weeks of the festival ending on 13 March.

Globally, we continue to see this unfortunate trend in action. The dreadful situation in India has come on the back of government claims of defeating COVID and widespread relaxations in crowd control.  “Vaccine triumphalism” and the holiday season have has been blamed for a surge of infections in Chile despite high levels of vaccination. The situation in the Seychelles further highlights the problems – although 60% of locals have been vaccinated, the relatively low infection rates in this contained community have soared with an influx of tourists.  Similarly, relaxation of restrictions and open borders has been blamed for surges in the UAE.

The table below shows the success of vaccine roll out in the seven most successful national rollout programs, but in those countries marked in red, COVID infection rates are higher than at any time last year proving that a vaccination alone is not going to stop COVID infections. 

At the start of the pandemic last year, two well documented out breaks on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and the American aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, showed how infection from a single individual can rapidly spread within the restricted confines of a vessel. This experience informed much of the preventative strategies that have resulted in the exemplary safety record of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry.

However the risks of complacency are highlighted by recent, well publicised outbreak on an accommodation vessel in the Central North Sea.

It is essential that for everyone’s safety that we all continue with the measures that have worked so well to date (testing, distancing and personal protection). Local outbreaks and events from around the world demonstrate that even one person slipping through the ‘safety net’ can have dramatic consequences for everyone so remaining vigilant to the risks of COVID infection remains paramount even as we start to look to getting our lives back to normal.

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