Dr Raghib Ali: No UK lockdown this Christmas

November 8, 2021
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As we approach Winter, the threat of more lockdown-style restrictions has been re-appearing on the horizon. Just yesterday Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted that it was a “national mission” to get jabbed so that we “can get through Winter and enjoy Christmas” while Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Vam-Tam last week threatened Plan B if people acted “like Covid was over”.

But is all this pessimism really warranted? After all, Covid infection rates in the UK have been falling for over two weeks and, compared to the rest of Europe (where cases are rising), it does not look in bad shape. To get a more balanced picture, Freddie Sayers spoke to Dr. Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist from Cambridge University and himself a frontline doctor. Last month, he gained nationwide attention when he published ‘The Lockdown Myths that need challenging’, arguing (among other things) that it was incorrect to say that the UK’s high death rate was attributable to locking down late or that lives would have been saved if we lockdown earlier. In today’s UnHerdTV, he expanded on his thinking and explained why he didn’t think restrictions would be coming in before Christmas:

Most of the modellers think that cases, hospitalisations and deaths will fall over the coming months because of the very high levels of population immunity thanks to a combination of vaccination and natural immunity. And therefore it’s very unlikely — unless there is some new variant which we have seen before — that there will be a situation like last winter. Because of that, I don’t think we’re going to have any new restrictions between now and Christmas.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Do mask mandates work?

The mask mandate has been maintained in Wales and Scotland, and hasn’t been shown to be particularly effective. If you look at their case rates and hospitalisation rates and death rates since July 19th, when we diverged, they really haven’t been very different to England. And of course, there can be other reasons for that, but it suggests that mask mandates were not enough to prevent them from having quite significant caseload and burden of Covid.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Why Plan B is a “distraction”:

​​There’s very good evidence now from Israel, from the UAE, from Bahrain, which are the three countries that have been most advanced in their booster programmes, that third doses of the vaccine made a very big difference to reducing hospitalisations and deaths. So I think the debate around Plan B has been somewhat of a distraction from the key point, which is that everybody in those nine high-risk groups, as soon as they’re eligible, it’s really very important for them to go and get their booster dose.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Why we shouldn’t compare the UK to Europe:

Countries in Western Europe are at a different stage of our third wave: the Delta variant arrived at a different times and there were also different stages of the vaccine rollout. Our vaccine rollout was ahead of the rest of Europe, and so our waning immunity has also been ahead of the rest of Europe. So those kind of cross-country comparisons are problematic. Scotland and Wales are much better comparators.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Will Sweden have a third wave?

If you look at Sweden’s trajectory, it’s not been the same as the UK or other countries, and it’s very likely that they will have a third wave soon, based on what’s happened in the UK, and what’s happening in other countries in Europe now. Rates are going up quite quickly in Belgium and Austria and the Netherlands in Germany. And I’m sure the same will happen in Sweden as well. 
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Are we going to have bi-annual vaccines indefinitely?

I’m not quite so pessimistic. What we don’t know yet is how long immunity will last after the third dose. And it’s possible that this third dose is what’s required for a full course of vaccination…Now I don’t expect we’ll get lifelong immunity for Covid, because the virus mutates faster and also the immune response is different. But what I think the most likely outcome is that we will all need annual boosters, or annual doses, as we do have influenza. But I don’t think we’ll be having it every six months. Covid does mutate, but not as much as influenza.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

On the ‘myth’ that the UK should have locked down sooner:

People still think that the UK has the worst kind of death toll in Europe. It’s all down to the lack of locking down early in the first and second waves. And that’s really taken hold across a large section of the media and the public…It’s really not based on anything… it’s based on a selective selection of countries. And a selective reading of the evidence.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Why Dr. Ali supported lockdown:

I supported the lockdowns for two reasons…One is if your health system is going to be overwhelmed, and then you get a multiplicative multiplying effect. The second is when you’ve got the vaccine rollouts — at least the first vaccine rollout — because those people that get vaccinated, for example, during a third lockdown, they were now protected.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

On vaccine passports:

I don’t think vaccine passports are going to make a huge difference if they were brought into the UK. I don’t personally support them. But if they were to be brought in, then I would have either vaccination, or natural immunity, or a negative Covid test as three ways of showing that you’re at low risk of passing on the virus.
- Dr. Raghib Ali, UnHerdTV

Thanks as ever to Dr. Ali for his time.


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