Why Britain’s sudden removal of covid restrictions is a big gamble


Britain is about to make a big bet.

On Monday, July 19, the country will lift all remaining pandemic restrictions. People can go to a nightclub or get together in as large a group as they want. They are not legally required to wear masks and can reduce social distance. The government turned to the media, calling it “Free Day,” and said the lifting of security measures was irreversible.

At the same time, the number of coronavirus cases is increasing rapidly in the UK. Recording more than 50,000 new cases Friday, the Minister of Health indicated that the number of new infections per day could exceed 100,000 during the summer.

Theoretically, it looks like a flammable mixture when fully restarted during a power surge in some cases. However, the UK government is betting that this time it will be different from other times due to the vaccination schedule.

Researchers say it’s very difficult to predict what will happen next due to multiple, complex, overlapping factors at work. Now let’s take a look at what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to watch out for over the next few weeks.

What we know: vaccines work

The UK vaccination program is still ongoing, but has been largely successful so far. Overall, 52% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and about 87% of adults receive the first vaccination (including 52% who received both vaccines). According to the National Bureau of Statistics, only 6% of Britons are reluctant to shoot.

However, there are still many causes of nervousness. The deployment of the vaccine is several months ahead of the complete inoculation of the entire adult population. Young people are particularly vulnerable. People over 18 have just started taking the first dose, and only a quarter of 18-39 year olds receive both injections. And unlike many in the US and Europe, the UK has not started immunizing children.

“It’s dangerous,” says evolutionary virologist Emilia Scarmant. “Especially before they go back to school in September, teenagers urgently need to be immunized.”

This is important because the covid-19 strain, which is currently the predominant strain in the UK, is a delta mutant. Fully vaccinated people have relatively little reason to worry about Delta, and the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer more than 90% effectiveness for hospitalization, according to data from the UK Public Health Service. But the delta variant is bad news for those who only miss one or are not vaccinated.

According to the Scottish Public Health Authority, it is around 60% more infectious than the alpha mutant, which was previously predominant in the UK, and is almost twice as likely to lead to hospitalization. A single dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine is only 33% effective against delta mutants, compared to 50% for alpha, according to UK public health data.

Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, said: “Relaxation should be stopped until all adults and adolescents are vaccinated with both doses.”

What you don’t know: when the case is high

It is clear that Britain is experiencing a new wave of pandemics. What we don’t know is how serious it is, or how removing restrictions will change it. Even the best experts in this field cannot say for sure.

“It’s very difficult to know what will happen after July 19,” said SPI-M, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and chairman of SPI-M, a group of scientists who advise the UK. A Graham Medley said. Government on pandemic modeling.

Many rely on audience behavior and are known to be extremely difficult to predict. Some will courageously take advantage of the newly discovered freedom (the trend that was fully visible in the European Football Championship final last weekend), while others will be much more cautious.

Many people are unhappy with the elimination of masks, which is one of the most basic and effective public health measures. An Ipsos Mori poll found that the majority of Britons plan to continue wearing masks in shops and public transport. If people continue to do so, it could help curb some spread: Israel, which also has high vaccination rates, had to reimpose the wearing of masks indoors last month due to an increase in cases .

Either way, cases are very likely to keep increasing for at least a few days, if not weeks. And that means, according to Medley, that more hospitalizations and deaths are inevitable. The big question is, how high will this wave be?

In a webinar on Thursday, UK Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty said Britain could “revisit the pretty scary numbers” and “get into trouble again surprisingly quickly”.

But the government seems to be betting that not all the numbers are equally scary. It is hoped that hospitalizations will be low enough to keep the National Health Service from being completely overwhelmed. We assume that the association between cases and hospitalization rates is weakened or even broken.

“This wave is very different from the last,” says Oliver Geffen Obregon, a UK-based epidemiologist who has worked with the World Health Organization. Vaccination program. “

But not everyone agrees. NHS bosses have already warned of the ability, more than 1,200 scientists have signed letters in Lancet, and the UK should pay attention to the significant increase in infectious disease, regardless of death rates or hospitalization. Claims to be.

One of them is epidemiologist Gurda Sani.

“The case is important,” she says, pointing to two main risks: the increased likelihood that many people will develop long-term covids and the risk of new mutants avoiding vaccination.

What we know: more people will have long covids

The UK already has a serious and long-standing covid problem. According to a major study from Imperial College London, more than 2 million adults may have or have had complications that have lasted for more than 12 weeks. However, according to the largest study to date published recently in The Lancet, long covids are not well understood and present more than 200 symptoms ranging from fatigue and shortness of breath to memory problems.

According to the WHO, around 1 in 10 people who have caught covid-19 continue to develop long covids. So if another million people in the UK catch Covid during this wave (most likely viable scenarios), there could be another 100,000 people with long-term issues.

Whitty is worried. “I think we get a good amount of longer covids, especially at a young age when vaccination rates are now much lower,” he said on July 6.

This can put a lot of pressure on the NHS, businesses and society in general, not to mention causing immense hardship to large numbers of individuals.

“Some symptoms can last for years and we can put the whole generation at risk of very poor health for the rest of their lives,” Skirmuntt explains.

What we don’t know: if all of this could spawn another dangerous variant

A major concern for many experts is that this government approach creates an ideal breeding ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant mutants.

On July 5, Steve Peterson, co-director of the University of Liverpool’s Genome Research Center, summed up his concerns in a tweet. A virus that can evade immunity. “

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