This is not surprising given the exponential progression of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 on the national territory: the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, confirmed on Monday June 14 that the “Freedom Day”, the day when all health restrictions were to be finally lifted after three months of long deconfinement, would be postponed by one month, from June 21 to July 19. Restaurants, theaters or cinemas will have to wait to accommodate at 100% of their capacity; as for the nightclubs, they will remain closed for a while and teleworking will be maintained.
This decision concerns only England; Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have their own health policies. But it is likely that their government will follow: at least 60% more contagious compared to the Alpha variant (the latter was detected for the first time in the English county of Kent), probably more virulent too (the risk of hospitalization is twice as high according to a preliminary study published by the journal The Lancet Monday), the Delta variant is indeed now prevalent throughout the UK – it concerns more than 90% of new cases of contamination from north to south of the country.
“Save thousands of lives”
Flanked by his two chief advisers, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, Boris Johnson pedagogically explained the reason for his « prudence » and the bet he was taking so that the new date of July 19 was, this time, “A definitive date” and “To save thousands of lives”. “The cases of infections are doubling every seven days in the most affected areas [au nord-ouest de l’Angleterre, dans le Grand Manchester], hospitalizations have increased by 50% in one week in the territory. We are faced with a difficult choice: if we maintain the complete reopening on June 21, thousands of people risk dying ”, the prime minister admitted on Monday.
It is clear that the UK is facing a third infectious wave fed by the Delta variant (first spotted in India), while the first two waves have already resulted in the deaths of almost 128,000 people. As of Monday, 7,742 new cases had been detected over the past twenty-four hours, up 45.5% over one week.
The good news, according to Mr Johnson’s advisers, is that two doses of the vaccine – that of Pfizer-BioNTech or that of Oxford-AstraZeneca, the two most widely deployed products in England – protect well against this variant. “The efficiency remains between 76% and 84% with two doses”, Whitty said – up from 30 percent on a single dose. But the entire adult population has not yet received its two doses in England, even if the vaccination campaign has so far been a great success: 56.9% of those over 18 are fully vaccinated.
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