We are all tired of the epidemic. We all want life to get back to normal. But there is growing doubt that we will see a full relaxation of restrictions on 21 June. There is a notable growth in cases in England. In Scotland also but not in Wales where restrictions have been stricter for longer.
Case levels in England are relatively low, averaging around 6,000 cases a day so far this month. Over the equivalent period in January at the peak of the second wave, we were witnessing 47,000 cases a day.
But positive tests are increasing and again growing here in Shropshire. There are no reported cases here in Ludlow and south west Shropshire. But there are a rising number of cases in the Church Stretton and Much Wenlock areas, further north in Shrewsbury and around Baschurch. And in Telford & Wrekin. Though the number of cases is low, the trend is up and that is what is worrying health professionals.
This needs to be put in perspective. Back in January, the infection rate in the Shropshire unitary area was above 400 per 100,000 people. This month it is around 16 per 100,000.
The Delta variant, previously called the Indian variant, is a fast spreader. It is 64% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which before relabelling was called the Kent variant. It is spreading fast among unvaccinated people. Those are mostly younger people, including school pupils. Although there is concern that Delta will lead to an increase in hospital admissions, there is no clear evidence of that at present.
Boris Johnson’s approach, under pressure from backbenchers that seem to care more about the economy than lives and health, has always been to impose restrictions too late. When dealing with a virus that grows whether it can and grows exponentially, every day counts. Will Johnson lift restrictions on 21 June? The mood music is against it.
If restrictions are not lifted, it will hit the hospitality trade. And big wedding parties. The biggest hit will be in the cities and large towns that cram people into bars into the early hours of the morning. That is a major spend. It is a minor gain that we no longer see images in the voyeuristic press of women who lie broken-healed on the streets of our cities after a night getting wrecked. But the night time economy is important to many urban centres and generates an estimated £90 billion a year.
We will be hit harder if we open up only to be forced to close down again weeks later. Another lockdown during the summer will severely damage our rural economy and the visitor economy that is so important to Shropshire and South Shropshire, attracting over 13 million visitors and generating around £800 million a year in the county.
It’s a tough choice but given the spread of Delta into the county, a delay until more people under fifty are vaccinated looks like our only option.
The three maps below show the spread on the virus, mostly Delta, during the three weeks up to five days ago.