Is the Government aiming for herd immunity by the back door as Covid cases among Yorkshire teenagers rocket? - Jayne Dowle

In the last four days I’ve heard of four teenagers from four entirely unrelated families testing positive for Covid.

Cases of Covid are rising rapidly among schoolchildren and teenagers (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Cases of Covid are rising rapidly among schoolchildren and teenagers (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

All these teenagers live here in Barnsley, where according to the latest available government data, there were 528 confirmed cases in the week ending June 25, almost triple the 189 confirmed cases for the week before, ending June 18.

One lad who tested positive also developed severe tonsilitis and glandular fever, becoming so ill he ended up being admitted to hospital in Sheffield.

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Another lad’s family holiday, to cottage in Devon, fell apart the day before departure when he came home with a positive PCR test. So far, his parents haven’t been able to reclaim a penny of the £1,000-plus they shelled out for this much-needed break, because the rental company said it was too late to re-sell the booking.

The girl, my friend’s daughter, felt unwell for almost a week before she took her regular lateral flow test for school and returned a positive result.

A PCR test confirmed that she had contracted Covid. Her parents, well-educated and switched-on, thought her symptoms – sore throat, exhaustion and nausea – indicated an unrelated illness.

They are angry, and rightly so, that the Government has not updated its official check-list to take into account the symptoms now being presented by many people who are testing positive. We’re assuming that this is the Delta variant, but who knows? Would we get a straight answer even if we could pin down the Prime Minister, his new Health Secretary Sajid Javid and all their medical and scientific advisors put together?

Just what is going on here? Whilst the Prime Minister speaks of so-called ‘Freedom Day’ going ahead on July 19, with the relaxation of rules around compulsory mask-wearing, scrapping of QR codes to enter restaurants and pubs, drinks available at the bar and a general loosening of the stays which have kept us all in place for 18 months, parents are increasingly angry, confused and anxious.

We’ve had no choice but to trust the Government to do the right thing since coronavirus came upon us. Now however, it seems that herd immunity is being brought in by the back door, our children and teenagers are being sacrificed on the altar.

My 15-year-old daughter, who has just returned to school following 10 days of isolation after all the girls in her year were sent home following one positive case, asked me with a worried face to explain what ‘herd immunity’ means.

She’s seen it trending on social media. Our conversation took me back to my own childhood, when parents would hold ‘chickenpox parties’ with the purpose of infecting their offspring so this particular virus could be over and done with. Brutal, but straightforward at least.

I turned, as the PM so often has, to the science. I’ve learned that we are now in the ‘exit wave’, otherwise known as the ‘third wave’. It’s thought the current reproduction or ‘R’ rate of the virus in this country is perhaps 1.5, so each infected person, on average, infects 1.5 others. However, each infected person then goes on to reduce that R rate, because they are understood to hold at least some immunity once they have contracted and recovered from the virus.

This means that every one of these Covid ‘survivors’ contributes in their own individual way towards herd immunity. Furthermore, it’s believed that infections will continue rising until the R rate drops to 1, which will be when enough people have been infected or vaccinated so that each new case can find only one other who is susceptible.

If you have children or grandchildren, how does it make you feel to know that this is happening? The theory of course, is that children and young people are less likely to develop serious conditions or die. And you thought chickenpox parties were brutal?

Downing Street deny that herd immunity is an official policy. But the Prime Minister stands in front of us at his press conference whilst all around young people are falling sick and pretends it isn’t happening. How on earth can we have faith in the rest of his plans to unlock the country? Not admitting to pursuing a covert policy of herd immunity risks turning into a massive miscalculation in terms of public confidence.

It also deepens division; mask-wearing, for example, is already contentious enough. And don’t get me started on the proposed extension of quarantine for double-jabbed adults until the middle of August. Is this, I wonder, to allow enough time for herd immunity to fully take hold?

If this is the case, then we truly are in for a summer of discontent. I understand that we have all had to put our personal demands aside as we’ve fought this unprecedented global pandemic, but this latest twist is going too far.

Every parent can see it, and the Prime Minister must level with us. If our children are to become collateral damage in the fight against coronavirus in all its mutations, we at least deserve to be told.

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