Falling COVID cases is a really positive step.

We’re seeing the third wave of cases, for one reason or another, begin to trail off; falling cases is obviously good news, and it’s an unprecedented development outside a lockdown.

We’re very much in untreated territory for much of the world (including ourselves) right now. Because we have vaccinated so much of our population, and almost the entirety of the most vulnerable, we’re in a situation where we’ve seen cases rising at an alarming rate, but held our nerve and not seen deaths pile up. For all of us, this has been a disorientating experience, because previously the graph going up that much would be cause for panic, but as of right now we’ve kept deaths pretty low (although they have risen a bit worryingly in recent weeks), all as case rates hit levels that would have been disastrous in a pre-vaccine situation.

As various scientists have said in recent weeks, we’ve never had a wave that hasn’t been controlled and brought back to heel by a lockdown or some other severe intervention and restriction on society. This has two sides to it; it means we may just be able to withstand much higher case rates while keeping much of society in a relatively normal state, which is of course the medium to long term policy goal for managing a global pandemic, while keeping society running as much as possible.

But it has also seen global institutions and experts basically say what our government is doing is putting the entire world at risk, by making our country an optimal variant factory, and essentially having our population as a vast open air experiment in the mass transmission of COVID-19, all while certain minsters downplay the risk (or in one case the existence) of Long COVID and flat out deny the real risks of a vaccine proof variant that could then spread around the world thanks to the approach taken by the British government.

So yeah, this whole thing is now pretty much uncharted territory, and while the epidemiologists and experts in this field obviously have the best estimates possible of what might happen, as of right now no one knows with any great certainty what happens to a wave of COVID that we don’t attempt to supress: in this country more than anywhere else in the world, that’s what we’re doing right now, and what is very openly UK government policy. So, like it or lump it, we’re all about to find out what happens, what works, and what goes wrong, and it’ll all be laid on the doorstep of the British government one way or another; rightfully so.

Something curious has been happening gradually over the last 3–5 days, and we’re now seeing a trend. In short, cases are falling, and it’s speeding up. What does this mean? There are a few possibilities.

The most optimistic of these is that thanks to our high vaccine coverage, we’re seeing this third wave reach its limits for the time being, and begin to trail off. If this were the case (and it could be) then it means we’re seeing a vindication of the more caution to the wind post-vaccine approach, and that there really is a good chance that with a vaccinated population we can withstand a high degree of transmission without it spiralling so out of control that a vaccine-resistant variant becomes all put guaranteed; indeed, this would very much be a victory for the vaccine over the virus, and a massive vindication for all the scientists who worked so tirelessly on creating that medical marvel so rapidly and so thoroughly (please please please get a vaccine the moment you can).

The less optimistic but equally (if not more so) plausible possibility here is a number of factors at once is bringing this about. We saw the end of schools for the summer, and the BBC has running today that the closure of schools is giving us much more breathing room, and could have fostered this falling rate of cases, since we know school-age children have been massive vectors for transmission of late; and it doesn’t bode well for how we handle that come September, given the virus will be on the march again going into Winter 21–22, and the highest priority is keeping children’s education normal; this is why vaccinating children is a more persuasive argument for society than you might think initially.

Alongside this there’s a bit of confusion with the numbers, since some folks may be avoiding tests since they can’t afford to self isolate, or indeed there’s also the brief shortage of tests we went through last week which could have precipitated a dip in numbers; and of course we may be seeing the end of the “Wembley surge” of cases in the wake of the Euro 2020 final. So overall we’re seeing a cocktail of factors, and we remain in uncharted waters.

However, one way or another, there’s room for a bit of optimism here, the virus isn’t surging and doubling anymore, and the wave we’re in the middle of may be showing itself to have limits and weaknesses. Cautious optimism is the watchword for now.