We have not learnt anything – COVID-19 still spreads like wildfire

The arrival of the delta variants was a unique chance to demonstrate that we have learnt to live with COVID-19, but we failed. This shows that we will be defenceless again, if vaccines stop working. By Martin Michaelis and Mark Wass.

There is currently an intensive discussion on whether all formal COVID-19 restrictions should be removed on 21st June as planned or whether some restrictions should remain in place. Proponents of the opening argue that the link between infection numbers and hospitalisations and deaths has been broken due to the vaccine roll-out. Therefore, infection numbers would not be a good parameter anymore to use for planning our actions.

The opponents of a complete opening argue that the removal of all restrictions could still cause a significant COVID-19 wave that will result in a considerable increase in hospital admissions and COVID-19 deaths.

The problem is that nobody can predict with certainty what would happen, if England opened up on 21st June. What we do know, however, is that if there is another substantial wave of hospitalisations and deaths, only another lockdown will enable us to bring this wave under control again. Thus, it is very reasonable to question whether it would not be better to err on the safe side and make sure that we do not end up in lockdown again.

However, we are missing the most important point in this debate. And this point is that, although we have been in this for about a year and a half, COVID-19 still spreads like on the first day as soon as we ease restrictions. There has been no learning curve. There is no realisation that we determine by our behaviour whether COVID-19 spreads or not. There is no sense of responsibility or accountability. COVID-19 waves come and go like the waves on a beach.

This could not be more obvious in the current situation. The number of COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents per week had gone down to 20.2 due to the lockdown. Some weeks later, we are already back at 51.7 and more than 90% of cases are the delta (B.1.167.2) variant.

And this happened although we knew about the delta variant and should have been prepared. All we did was monitoring and watching how the delta variant gained a foothold and has become the dominant variant. All measures to contain it simply failed.

For everyone, who is eager to open up, the arrival of the delta variants was a unique opportunity to demonstrate that we have learnt to live with COVID-19 without causing one wave after the other, but we failed. If a variant emerges that is not covered by the current vaccines, we will have learnt nothing. We will be as defenceless as on day one of the pandemic and end up in repeated lockdowns again.

There are good examples of countries that have kept COVID-19 under control from the beginning. Residents of these countries did not have to endure the death numbers and restrictions that we had, but we do not seem to be capable and/ or willing to learn from them. We do not seem to be prepared to take on any responsibility during the pandemic. Instead, we put all our hopes into a vaccine campaign and if that fails at some point, there will be deaths and lockdowns again.