Now isn't the time to ease restrictions in the Covid-19 battle

Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff as she returns to her ward after becoming the first perso

Margaret Keenan, 90, is applauded by staff after becoming the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine last month - Credit: PA

Norwich Science Festival founder Stuart Hobday says we have to stick with the government's guidelines until the Covid vaccine is administered

It’s now clear that the new variant mutation of Covid-19 has been a game changer in the impact of the virus around the UK.

The variant has enhance ‘Spike Proteins’ that make it more likely to take hold in receptor cells and so has increased transmission by between 50% and 70%.

This is reflected in the numbers of Covid infections and the hospital admissions which are now at their highest since the arrival of Covid-19 nearly a year ago.

Several areas of Norfolk including Norwich have their highest number of infections since the pandemic began. The battle between reproduction of the virus and efforts to stop the spread are more intense than ever. And with some light at the end of the tunnel I believe we have a duty to do everything we can to restrict transmission for a few more months.

It’s not surprising that people are somewhat Covid weary. It’s been 10 months of restrictions that have curbed social life, working income and put strain on relationships and family life.

It’s been mentally repetitive and stressful, worse in winter, so that there will very likely be rising numbers of people who are struggling with their mental health.

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We need to support each other. It would not be surprising if some people are feeling that they want to challenge the restrictions and get a bit more freedom that they crave. Perhaps the news of the vaccine has made people relax a little.

However that would be bad timing in the light of the new variant causing the current increase in cases.

It’s also now clear that the NHS across the country is coming under unprecedented pressure. There are only so many intensive care beds and trained nurses and doctors to service them. The numbers we are seeing at the moment stem from the spread of the new variant throughout December and have not yet manifested the effect of Christmas get-togethers. They will get worse before they get better.

Pressure on hospitals will not just lead to Covid problems, it will lead to problems in treating all other patients.

Operations will be delayed; cancer treatments made more difficult; delays in routine but crucial treatments for many people will lead to health problems at a later date. We don’t just owe it to courageous frontline staff to keep to the rules, we owe it other people in our communities.

There is now light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the vaccine and it’s an incredible achievement that vaccines have been developed so quickly and are being rapidly rolled out.

However vaccinating 60 million people will not happen overnight in the UK and so surely in the meantime we can work to stop the spread of Coronavirus for a few more months.

This is exactly the wrong time to relax – when we are so close to getting through this crisis.

Keeping our distance, wearing the mask if we have to go out, washing hands, staying at home, are more important than ever in this challenging phase.

Stuart Hobday was the founder of Norwich Science Festival, is a PHD student in philosophy of science at UEA and author of Encounters with Harriet Martineau.