Covid-19 has been the dark and stormy rain cloud hanging over us this past year, but as we ease out of lockdown, there are rays of light breaking through.
From data showing fewer deaths and hospitalisations from the virus, to experts suggesting normality is on the horizon, these are the slightly happier Covid news stories to read with your morning brew.
1. Almost 12,000 deaths have been prevented by Covid jabs
The NHS’s Covid-19 vaccination efforts have prevented 11,700 deaths in those aged 60 and older in England up to the end of April, according to analysis by Public Health England (PHE). The jab has also prevented at least 33,000 hospitalisations in those aged 65 and older in England in the same period.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the news is “remarkable” after a “heartbreaking and difficult year”.
“That’s tens of thousands of parents, children, siblings, friends and loved ones saved – and millions more who haven’t had to feel the impact of that horrible loss too,” he said.
“This is further proof that getting a vaccine is one of the most important things you will be asked to do in your lifetime – when offered the jab, don’t hesitate in securing this protection for yourself and others.”
2. Hugs are back on the cards from next week
Yes, that’s right. Prime minister Boris Johnson announced hugs are back on the agenda from May 17 – but if you’re going to be doing some embracing, you’ll need to be “cautious” about it. Find out how to have a proper cautious cuddle (with the help of Covid experts).
3. Vaccinated people have far milder Covid
We know vaccination doesn’t necessarily stop you from getting reinfected with Covid, but analysis by the Zoe Covid Study team has found it alters the number of symptoms you have – and the severity of them – if you catch it again.
The analysis revealed fully vaccinated people reported 0-1 symptoms within the first week of infection. In those who were partially vaccinated, it rose to 2-4 and in those who were unvaccinated, this increased to five symptoms.
Professor Tim Spector, the study’s lead scientist from King’s College London, said it’s “reassuring” we’re seeing milder infections than before the vaccine rollout. “The majority of vaccinated people, when infected, don’t experience classic respiratory problems and experience fewer symptoms overall, which means rising infections have not yet resulted in an increase in hospitalisations or deaths and pressure on the NHS.
“This is a signal that the game has changed, with vaccines allowing us to live much more normal lives in a world with Covid-19.”
4. We could be ‘back to normal’ by end of this year
In what will be welcome news to many, the government’s chief pandemic modeller, Professor Graham Medley, has suggested we could be back to normal by the end of this year. Yep, you heard that correctly.
Prof Medley, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4: “If vaccines continue to work, and we don’t have some nasty variants, then potentially we could be completely back to normal by the end of the year.”
This is dependent on the vaccines continuing to work against the variants, he said, but with booster jabs on the horizon this autumn, it’s looking promising.
5. Having a longer gap between Pfizer jab doses isn’t a bad thing after all
At the start of 2021, the government chose to delay second doses of the Covid vaccines so more people could have their first dose in the hopes of preventing more deaths.
While there was evidence at the time to suggest this would be fine with the AstraZeneca jab, experts were concerned about the impact of delaying the second Pfizer dose. However, new research has suggested this is totally fine – and actually might be better than leaving a shorter interval between the two.
A 12-week gap between Pfizer doses significantly increases the immune response in older people, according to the study led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with PHE. The antibody response in people aged 80 and over was three and a half times greater in those who had the second dose after 12 weeks, compared with a three-week interval.
6. You could be heading back to work IRL soon
If the novelty of working from home has well and truly worn off, more good news is on the horizon. Boris Johnson has suggested he intends to end the work from home guidance by June 21, providing England stays on track.
It means in just over a month, you could be back having chats at the kettle with your colleagues and being firmly embarrassed by the office rendition of ‘happy birthday’. Just no blowing out any candles on any cakes.