The war between the London vaccine and the delta strain of coronavirus is culminating in the UK, with the rest of the world watching closely. The question is whether developed countries with high vaccination rates can live a pre-epidemic life in the face of a rapidly spreading version of the virus.
This experiment should provide a strong signal as to whether Covid-19 can be relegated to a state of a manageable seasonal threat like influenza, and whether lockdowns and social distancing can be left to the past.
In the UK, almost all Covid-era restrictions were lifted on Monday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants the British to decide for themselves whether to wear face coverings, dance in nightclubs or skip big gatherings.
The UK is recording close to 50,000 cases per day, more than reported in Brazil, India, Indonesia or South Africa. The government justifies the action by noting hospitalization rates and deaths far below the initial wave of the epidemic.
This strategy puts the UK into conflict with its neighbors in Europe, parts of the US, and countries with high vaccination rates like Israel, where vaccine rollouts are underway with tightening of some public health measures like masks. Wear and social distancing to prevent the spread of the Delta strain.
Londoners were vaccinated last week in a country where the delta strain of coronavirus now predominates. Photo: tolga akmen/Agence France-Press/Getty Images
The government is watching the experiment closely to inform its own response to Delta as a highly contagious strain of the virus displaces older versions, as it has already done in the UK. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that delta currently accounts for 83% of sequenced virus samples in the United States.
Ran Balicer, who heads the Israeli government’s COVID-19 expert advisory group, said on Tuesday that the Israeli government is recommending a cautious approach over the coming weeks to see what’s happening in the UK.
can learn well in class [of the U.K.] And you have to act accordingly, Professor Baliser told Israeli Army Radio.
Investors who have recently been shocked by Delta are also paying attention. Jim Reid, strategist at Deutsche Bank in London, said if hospitals in the UK are not overwhelmed in the coming weeks and cases stagnate, it will be a sign that the recovery in developed countries will not be pushed too far. It will have a long winter if the UK is struggling, he said in a note to customers on Wednesday.
There is hope behind the UK’s Big Bang approach that vaccination and public attention will prevent the repeating mass hospitalizations and deaths that accompanied previous waves of the epidemic.
This week Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Prime Minister Boris Johnson want the British to decide for themselves what precautions to take. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/PA wire/Zuma Press
In Europe, it is a priority to urgently increase immunization coverage while keeping the Delta in check through masking and social distancing. France and Italy are considering or implementing programs that make vaccination or a recent COVID-19 negative or evidence of recovery from COVID-19 in the past six months a mandatory requirement for access to public places such as museums, restaurants and certain forms of public transport.
Local authorities in at least 41 regions of Russia, including Moscow, have made vaccination compulsory for employees in the service sector: restaurants and bars, transport, shops, housing and workers in the public service, transport, education and entertainment industries.
As summer approaches, Mr. Johnson and his scientific advisors believe that continued immunization and recovery from infection should bring the UK closer to herd immunity. At this point, the virus will no longer be able to spread easily enough to trigger future large-scale outbreaks. In the UK, two-thirds of adults are fully vaccinated, compared to 60% in the US. The UK Statistical Office estimates that 92% of adults have some degree of immune protection against Covid-19 from full or partial immunizations or past infections.
The plan has been criticized by many public health experts in the UK and internationally. Dozens of people signed letters in medical journals and took part in online conferences, accusing the UK of its strategy of being reckless and unethical. They accuse the government of unnecessarily exposing the British to the disease and raising the risk of new variants appearing that could evade vaccine defenses.
Indoor dining, exercise classes, concerts. These everyday events are returning to our daily lives. But now everyone is feeling a different level of comfort due to COVID-19. What happens to the brain when we decide whether we are at risk or not? Photo Illustration: Laura Camerman
Professor Hendrik Streeck, a virologist at the University of Bonn, considers the experiment a bit risky.
The UK government defends the strategy, saying that vaccination means less justification for burdensome legal controls on the economy and society, without increasing cases increasing hospitalizations and deaths to the same extent as previous infection waves.
A planned festival in Erp, the Netherlands, was disbanded earlier this month as the government added a new curb in response to the worsening epidemic. Photo: sem van der wal/Agence France-Press/Getty Images
Currently, the UK averages about 600 hospital admissions per day and about 40 deaths per day. In January, the deadliest period of the epidemic in the UK, daily cases peaked at around 60,000, hospital admissions reached 4,000 per day, and more than 1,200 died. everyday.
Doctors say that most of the people currently hospitalized are young people who have not been vaccinated or are waiting for a second dose. From the latest data available, a significant number of hospitalizations, about 14%, are those in their 50s who have completed the immunization, accounting for 45% of deaths. This is a reminder that even after vaccination, older people continue to take the enormous risk from Covid-19.
The biggest concern for those treating patients is the current trajectory of the epidemic and the risk of a sharp rise in the number of patients despite the majority of the population being protected.
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The UK reported 47,700 new cases on Tuesday, double the number at the end of June and 14 times the daily average at the end of May. Health Minister Sajid Javid warned that the number could exceed 100,000 per day in a few weeks.
David Strain, a doctor and lecturer at the University of Exetus, UK, who treats Covid-19 patients, sent a patient in his early 30s to the intensive care unit this week and said he wasn’t sure if he could survive. In an upcoming paper, he and colleagues argue that it is realistic to expect 250 to 300 deaths per day at the current peak of the waves.
He said he was unspeakably nervous about the UK’s current approach. We rely on vaccines to save us, and vaccines on their own aren’t strong enough.
Some disease experts acknowledge the risks of the UK strategy as well as the broader need to find a better balance between opening the economy and protecting public health in a vaccinated society.
Irene Petersen, professor of epidemiology and health informatics at University College London, doesn’t think anyone can say that this is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. The rising number of cases in earlier stages of the epidemic means strengthening restrictions rather than easing them, she said. That said, what happens next is highly uncertain and will depend in part on how closely the British voluntarily adhere to public health precautions and limit their contact with others.
Professor Petersen said:
Children were tested for COVID-19 last month in Vinjamina, Israel, where the government is watching a British experiment. PHOTOGRAPHS: Ariel Shalitt/Associated Press
—Dov Lieber, Bojan Pancevski, Sam Schechner, Eric Sylvers, and Ann Simmons contributed to this article.
Write to Jason Douglas at [email protected]
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