Britain rolled out its vaccination program much earlier than other countries in the Europe. Yet, Covid-19 infections in the country have been rising in recent weeks, so much so it hit more than 50,000 cases on Thursday (Oct 21). Something is terribly wrong in the U.K. as it was only on July 19 that Britons celebrated England’s “Freedom Day”, where restrictions were almost fully lifted.
Even before the end of lockdown restrictions in England on July 19, the government of Boris Johnson declared that it had hit its target of offering every adult in the country a Covid-19 vaccine, a premature declaration of victory. British Prime Minister Johnson apparently had adopted a “big bang approach” in setting the targets prior to scrapping all legal restrictions.
The gamble backfired after daily cases started to climb – slowly but steadily – since as early as August. In the week up to Oct 16, an estimated 1 in 55 people in England alone have had Covid-19 – translating to 1 million people having infected. The British health secretary, Sajid Javid, admitted earlier this week that new cases could reach a record 100,000 a day as winter approaches.
However, the “Plan B” – a winter lockdown preferred by the health authorities, has been rubbished by PM Johnson. He said there was “absolutely nothing to indicate that that is on the cards at all”. Clearly, it would be a slap on his face to agree to another lockdown so soon after the prime minister declared a victory. His competence and leadership would certainly be questioned.
While getting infected is now much less likely to send Britons in the hospital, thanks to Covid-19 vaccines, the soaring new cases would certainly put pressure on healthcare services. Between July and October this year, about 79,000 people had been hospitalized due to Coronavirus, even though it was lower than 185,000 people hospitalized before vaccines were available between October and January last year.
So, what had the UK government done wrong? As a start, despite having almost every adult Briton vaccinated, only 67.7% (as of Oct 21) of the population are fully inoculated. And 73.8% had received at least one dose of vaccine, meaning there are more than 17 million people not protected at all. According to England Public Health, unvaccinated people were at least 3 times likely to be hospitalized.
To make matters worse, complacency and a “false sense of security” as a result of the UK’s vaccination programme saw the Johnson administration’s refusal to maintain the basic protection such as wearing masks. While many countries across Europe and even around the world have maintained that mask is still compulsory despite vaccination, the British government said it’s not compulsory.
Covid cases are higher in the UK than in Germany, France, Italy and Spain because Britons were more likely to say they no longer wear a face mask after the lifting of lockdown or restriction. However, Imperial College London argued that there were even more people in Sweden and the Netherlands who do not wear masks, yet, these countries have lower Covid cases than the UK.
Not only Britain relaxed many restrictions sooner than neighbouring European countries, the people in England, Wales and Scotland have been freely going to nightclubs and attend gatherings of unlimited numbers of people, as if the pandemic had ended. Another factor that contributes to the surge of infections could be the likelihood of people in the UK taking public transport.
Even though public transport systems say wearing a mask is mandatory, those rules are not fully complied due to lack of enforcement. And earlier plan to implement a vaccine passport in England has also been scrapped after British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last month that he did not “like the idea of people having to present papers to do basic things.”
While Britons get to enjoy a return to normal life earlier than most countries, it also means the vaccine’s effectiveness is losing faster than other countries. The fears of waning immunity means the Delta variant, which accounted for 99.8% of infected cases in England, could have already returned. Studies show protection drops significantly after five or six months of vaccination.
To add salt to injury, the vaccination seems to have reached its peak in the UK, with remaining unvaccinated not stepping forward to receive jabs. Despite the spread of Delta variant, the rollout of booster shots has been slow, which could lead to the daily high infections. Boosters, given only to older people in the UK, have seen only 3.7 million doses administered in England as of Oct 17.
Although Delta is still the dominant variant in the UK, cases of “Delta Plus” (known as AY.4.2) have been increasing. Latest official data suggests at least 6% of Coronavirus cases in the country are due to Delta Plus, which scientists, including India’s Ministry of Health, say may be more contagious than the already highly transmissible Delta variant.
If also didn’t help that the British government delayed vaccinating secondary school students. Vaccines for 12 to15-year-olds in the UK started only on September 20 (compared to France, which started in June), and so far only 15% of them had received one dose Statistics showed 1 in 14 secondary school-age children had tested positive for Covid in the week ending October 2.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said the current number of cases and death rates was unacceptable in retaliation against Health Secretary Sajid’s statement that Covid-related deaths in the U.K. “remain mercifully low”. But defiant PM Johnson insisted there are still some tools available.
Disagreed that another Christmas lockdown would happen, Johnson government is still considering the mandatory use of face masks and working from home before going for the nuclear option. However, the prime minister has to decide fast as Christmas is just 2 months away. If he doesn’t act decisively, the UK could face a triple whammy of respiratory illnesses this winter – Covid, Flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
Source : Finance Twitter