UK Covid: Britain has more new cases than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined

“We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones at Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so that we can see them in the coming Christmases,” Johnson said, taking a potentially life-defining step he had. excluded only a few days. earlier.

But the Delta variant – even more transmissible than the Alpha strain that spoiled last year’s festivities – hasn’t gone away.

The country has quietly endured stubbornly high cases, hospitalizations and deaths compared to the rest of Europe. Britain has recorded nearly half a million cases in the past two weeks – and nearly 50,000 on Monday – more than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. The UK reported 223 deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since early March.

Johnson has moved away from much of the European Union in his approach; While a number of countries on the continent have introduced vaccine passports, England has suspended its initial plan to do so. Wearing a mask and social distancing and other measures are no longer required by law in Britain.

This contrasts with much stricter measures in several European countries, where proof of vaccination or a negative test is required to visit bars and restaurants or to work in several fields, including healthcare.

British hospitals are now on the verge of collapsing again under the pressure of new admissions. And the country’s early vaccination success risks being wiped out by a jerky rollout of booster vaccines and vaccines for children.

“Great policies lead to great results,” Deepti Gurdasani, epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, told CNN. “It’s very predictable. It’s a consequence of opening everything up.”

“We are approaching winter, and things are only going to get worse,” she added.

Some things can still stop; Johnson’s spokesman admitted on Monday that a “difficult” winter awaits us, and the Prime Minister has refused to rule out a return of mask warrants or tighter restrictions to protect the country’s National Health Service (NHS) in the coming weeks.

But experts – including Johnson’s own healthcare chiefs – are calling for a more urgent change in approach.

The NHS Confederation, which represents the providers of the service, urged the government on Wednesday to switch to its ‘Plan B’ package, which would include European-style vaccination passes and more mask warrants. But the government has ruled out the move for now, insisting only that it is closely monitoring the numbers in the case.

“There are a whole host of ways (in which) we are out of step with Western Europe and the rest of the world,” said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“We have seen in other European countries that collective measures make a big difference,” he said. “We should ask ourselves: are we right? (Because) there is no proof that we are right.”

A stuttering vaccine rollout

The driving force behind Britain’s renewed optimism for the New Year was its vaccination program, which topped most countries on its initial scale and defined the narrative of what Johnson described as the triumphant emergence of Britain from the pandemic.

But the country is struggling to repeat those early successes as it tries to vaccinate adolescents and roll out booster shots for the elderly and at risk.

“The deployment of the booster in England is failing to keep pace with the deployment of the first and second doses of vaccine,” John Roberts, consultant to the Covid-19 Actuaries Response group, which tracks vaccination figures, warned Monday.

More than a month after the start of the booster shots, less than half of the twice-vaccinated over-80s received a supplement. “It is clear that accelerating the deployment of the booster is vital to reduce the pressure on health services and minimize Covid-related deaths this fall and winter,” he said.

The group estimated that at the current rate, the 22 million people who make up the country’s high-risk groups will not be triply vaccinated until the end of January, despite initial government promises that the program would protect people for the sake of it. winter.

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Vaccines continue to reduce the number of Covid-19 patients who need hospital treatment, but declining immunity makes the pace of deployment particularly important. The majority of people over 40 in Britain were initially vaccinated with the partially cultivated Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was shown to be less effective against the Delta variant than the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

A preprint from a Public Health England (PHE) study found that the vaccine’s protection against infection fell from 66.7% to 47% after 20 weeks, compared to a 90% drop to 70% for the vaccine. Pfizer. Separate research from PHE found that AstraZeneca’s effectiveness against Delta hospitalization fell from just over 90% to just under 80% after 140 days, while its effectiveness against death remained. close to 90%. Pfizer remained above 90% in both measures.

Many experts attribute the lack of momentum in the UK vaccination campaign to months of positive assurances from the Johnson government.

“All of the government’s messages and actions suggest we are out of danger,” Gurdasani said.

“There have been a lot of messages that the pandemic is basically over, so a lot of people are thinking, ‘why bother? McKee added.

Adolescents in England have to wait to be vaccinated at school, which has hampered the rollout.

There are also concerns on the other end of the age spectrum, as the NHS strives to vaccinate over 12s and avoid a repeat of the widespread transmission in schools that has disrupted much of the summer term in June and July.

This program got off to a false start amid initial conflicting opinions from the country’s scientific bodies; while France, for example, started vaccinating under-18s in June, the UK government only gave the green light in September.

1.2 million adolescents have now received a dose of a vaccine and only 260,000 have seen two doses in England.

“The problem is not that teenagers don’t want to take it. There are many who are desperate to get it, but it is not offered in school yet,” Gurdasani said.

Schools have complained about the lack of immunization staff, and England’s delay in allowing adolescents to visit national immunization centers has put it behind Scotland in immunizing the group of age.

“There is a loss of direction here,” McKee said. “It’s not clear who is in charge.”

UK hospitals brace for gloomy winter

UK Covid-19 rates are climbing above most European rates, but its mitigation measures remain minimal.

“The government is totally dependent on the immunization program, which is now going very timidly,” McKee said. “There really needs to be an urgent examination of our differences from other countries, and an assessment: should we be different? What is the reason ? “

McKee joined many experts in calling for a package of measures that reflect the continent. Several European countries, including France and Italy, have rolled out Covid-19 passes and demanded vaccination of healthcare workers, while many others still use mask warrants in the crowded spaces that the Kingdom has. -Uni does not use.
Thousands protest as Italy's Covid pass becomes mandatory for workers

Johnson, on the other hand, went back on his original plans to introduce similar measures. “Vaccine passes have an important role to play; the French and Italian experience shows that this is the case, ”said McKee. The number of cases has remained low in both countries since the measures were introduced.

Healthcare is devolved in the UK and vaccine passes have been announced in Wales and Scotland. Meanwhile, Johnson is keeping them in reserve as part of his ‘Plan B’ scenario for England – but with infection rates so high every day, many are wondering why Plan A is still in effect.

“We have extremely high infection rates in children (and) they have spread to the elderly population,” Gurdasani said. “We are approaching winter, and things are only going to get worse.”

Another challenge is Covid fatigue among the public. Mass events are underway without any vaccination requirements and little evidence of the pandemic remains on UK main streets during peak periods.

Only 40% of Britons still regularly practice social distancing, up from 62% in mid-July and 85% in April, according to the Office for National Statistics. The same recurrent study also observed a gradual decline in the wearing of masks.

For some, this trend is alarming. “We’ve had 30 to 40,000 cases a day for months now. There is no other country that tolerates this… (but) this has been normalized” in the UK, Gurdasani said.

A row of ambulances in London in January.  Health workers fear similar scenes this winter if infections continue to climb.

The steady stream of hospitalizations has not increased dramatically over the past two months, but neither has it declined significantly; official figures show more than 700 new patients entering facilities every day.

That leaves hospitals, which are already struggling to overcome a backlog of delayed treatments during the pandemic, eagerly awaiting another winter wave.

NHS England last week said more people were waiting for treatment than at any time since it started keeping records – 5.7 million – as healthcare workers battled September busiest on record this year.

“There is no doubt that the NHS is booming, with the highest number of A&E patients ever seen in September, 14 times as many covid patients in hospital compared to the same month last year and a record high of 999 ambulance calls, “said Professor Stephen Powis. the NHS national medical director said of the numbers.

The direction winter takes is still not inevitable. “There are so many unknowns,” McKee said, noting that previous spikes in infections anticipated this year have not materialized.

But experts and hospital staff fear a new strain. “It’s not a place most healthcare workers want to be,” Gurdasani added. “It really scares me that we’re in this place before winter.”

And, as the year draws to a close, the nature of Britain’s second pandemic Christmas remains unclear.

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