Remaining COVID restrictions in UK end as study shows most Omicron deaths have been in deprived areas

Despite an overall decline in cases, the UK is still recording hundreds of thousands of COVID infections per week. In the seven days since February 24, when all COVID restrictions ended in England, 231,973 cases have been recorded and 741 deaths.

This is an underestimate, given that there is no nationwide routine testing, with universal contact tracing already complete. A more reliable picture of the prevalence of COVID is provided by the regular survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to the latest estimate, more than 2 million people were infected with the coronavirus last week.

People queue outside a COVID testing center in east London, January 2022 (WSWS Media)

COVID deaths in Britain are officially counted by the government if someone dies within 28 days of testing positive. Of this measure 161,630 people have already been killed by the virus. According to a more precise measure from the ONS, which records mentions of COVID-19 as a cause on the death certificate, 183,579 have died up to February 18. According to this latest measure, 969 died in the week to February 18.

Other British nations are following suit in ending restrictions. Northern Ireland ended all anti-COVID measures even before Johnson did. Ministers from the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin gave their unanimous support to end all legal restrictions on February 15 and replace them with advice.

On February 28, the Labor Party-led Government of Wales ended the legal requirement to wear face masks in many indoor settings, including gymnasiums, cinemas, theatres, community centers and museums. . After returning from midterm this week, high school students are no longer required to wear masks in classrooms. Prime Minister Mark Drakeford’s government plans to end the use of face masks in all settings by the end of March.

This week, the Scottish National Party administration ended the requirement for secondary school students to wear face coverings in classrooms and for larger venues to implement the vaccine passport scheme. All remaining coronavirus restrictions in Scotland will be lifted on March 21.

The end of all restrictions, after nearly 19 million people (nearly 28% of the population) have recorded COVID infection, lays the groundwork for further disease spread and new mutations. At the start of this week, the total number of cases this year alone had reached 5.5 million in Britain, driven by the Omicron surge.

More and more evidence has emerged showing that the deaths and cases are disproportionately hitting the poorer working class sections of the population. This week the Independent The journal reported on a COVID study by Colin Angus, senior researcher and modeler of health inequalities at the University of Sheffield. He revealed that “the majority of deaths in hospital and at home – almost 25%, respectively – occur in the most deprived parts of England”.

the Independent noted: ‘At least 30% more coronavirus deaths have occurred in the most deprived areas of England since the start of the year…’

“Of the 7,053 deaths recorded in the six weeks after January 1, 1,589 (22.5%) were from the country’s poorest 20%, compared to 1,188 (16.8%) from the poorest 20%. destitute”.

He added: “Such figures, which are only available until February 11, probably underestimate the scale of Covid inequalities: the most deprived areas of England tend to be younger, while the less disadvantaged have an older population, which is more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Despite this, poorer parts of the country still account for a higher proportion of deaths. »

The spread of COVID in the most deprived areas will only get worse as UK governments end access to free testing for the general public on April 1, as well as sickness payments for people with COVID-19. COVID forced to self-isolate. Researcher Angus commented that “the inequalities we have seen in recent months reflect the situation with free mass testing and mandatory self-isolation [emphasis added].” the Independent quoted the charity Health Foundation as saying “the figures were ‘worrying and represent a warning sign that the virus could continue to have a disproportionate impact’ in the weeks and months to come”.

On the same day he ended COVID restrictions, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament: ‘We will also be ending self-isolation support payments, although the COVID provisions for statutory allowance illness can still be claimed for an additional month. [March 24].”

During the pandemic, workers were allowed to claim statutory sick pay from their first day of absence. From March 24, employees on sick leave will have to wait four days to claim sick pay. The canceled £500 test and trace support payment was available for low-income people who had to self-isolate. The end of even extremely limited support for people infected with COVID will force many of them to work while sick, putting their health and that of their colleagues at risk.

Johnson admitted that the last measures in place to protect against COVID were being phased out due to cost. He said: ‘The Testing, Research and Isolation budget in 2020-21 exceeded the total Home Office budget. It cost an additional £15.7bn this financial year and £2bn in January alone at the height of the Omicron wave. We now need to reduce this.

There is no such reluctance when it comes to increasing military spending as NATO’s confrontation with Russia escalates.

Justifying the measures, Johnson said: ‘I’ve heard a lot over the past couple of years that we have a habit of going back to work or going to work when we’re not feeling well. And people compare this with Germany for example where, I am told, they are much more disciplined not to go to work if you are sick.

German employers are legally obliged to pay staff 100% of their salary for the first six weeks of illness. In Britain statutory sick pay paid by employers is set at just £96.35 a week, and only up to 28 weeks. the Guardian noted: ‘The proportion of a UK worker’s salary covered by sick pay is only 19%, according to the TUC [Trades Union Congress]. Rates are highest in Spain (42%), Sweden (64%) and Belgium (93%), with support only worse in South Korea and the United States, where workers have no legal rights to sickness benefit.

The final removal of all COVID protections includes the removal of compulsory vaccination for social workers in England on March 15. Care home staff had to be vaccinated to work in the sector from last November. A proposal to introduce mandates for frontline NHS staff had already been scrapped.

Everything is being done to put an end to any recognition of the existence of the pandemic. For the first time, COVID cases and deaths were not officially reported this weekend, with cases from those days instead being added to Monday’s total.

All restrictions are being dropped despite warnings from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) last month that even in an ‘optimistic’ scenario there could be a ‘seasonal surge of infections in autumn/winter with a size and severity achieved comparable to the current Omicron wave” within the next 12 to 18 months.

All scenarios modeled by SAGE “assume that SARS-CoV-2 will continue to circulate for the foreseeable future and that variants will emerge”. This week, Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Health and Safety Agency (UKHSA), said of one of the Omicron variants: “We now know that BA.2 has an increased growth rate that can be observed in all regions. In England. We also learned that BA.2 has a slightly higher secondary attack rate than BA.1 in households.

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