News of the spread of the mutant COVID strain marks a grim end to a horrible year. As I write, SAGE experts and ministers are meeting to decide whether Tier 4 restrictions need to be extended, in light of evidence that this strain may spread more easily. On Cheltenham’s behalf, I continue to speak regularly to the Health Secretary and local public health experts.
As we contemplate these restrictions one thing is clear: as my colleague, Neil O’Brien MP has noted, Sweden’s “herd immunity” strategy seems not to have worked. Although superficially attractive, it has led to a dreadful number of deaths per capita. Applied here in the UK, the results would have been even worse.
It’s not difficult to see why libertarians no longer trumpet Sweden as a Nordic utopia. Sweden’s hospitals have been overwhelmed, with death rates around ten times higher than its immediate neighbours. Finland and Norway have had to step in to offer emergency medical assistance. Even the King of Sweden has made an intervention criticising the government’s bungled strategy.
A damning government report concluded that the state had failed to help the most vulnerable, and Swedish virologist Lena Einhorn has concluded that “Sweden’s strategy has proven to be a dramatic failure.”
The strategy has fallen short despite Sweden’s natural advantages. It has just 25 people per square kilometre, compared to 273 in the UK – and a far higher proportion of people live alone.
The better example seems to have come from those in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea: go hard, go early.
The vaccine roll-out in Gloucestershire is proceeding remarkably smoothly thanks to excellent planning and delivery. As at Friday 18 December, 1,850 vaccinations had been provided to higher risk NHS and social care staff, with thousands more to vulnerable groups. Nationwide, over 500,000 people in the UK have had their first vaccine dose the highest proportion on Earth.
My sincere thanks to those on duty this Christmas. Please do all stay safe.