The more a virus is allowed to circulate, the more opportunities it has to mutate. Omicron originated in South Africa, but such a variant could have developed in the UK, given the high community transmission rates here, and could still do so. The only answer to this is to keep infection rates down. They do matter. The link between infection rates and deaths has been weakened but not broken. Over a thousand people are dying each week in the UK — the equivalent of two Grenfell Towers a day.
Covid-19 is a preventable disease, and this enormous death toll is intolerable. At the moment, living with the virus means allowing huge numbers of people, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to die, and condemning those with underlying health conditions to indefinite house arrest. Other protective measures are needed if we are to suppress transmission rates. Testing and tracing must be run by our public health officials, not by profit-driven private companies. Enhanced ventilation should be installed in all workplaces (including schools and universities) and public buildings, with subsidies if necessary.
We welcome the extra safety measures announced by the Government, but more is needed if life is to go back to normal. We also welcome the openness of the South African Government, who should be supported not isolated. International cooperation must be stepped up as a matter of urgency. Patents must be waived so that countries in the global South and elsewhere can manufacture their own vaccines and thus vaccinate their populations promptly. Nowhere is safe until everywhere is safe.