But the government was determined to move on.
After a month, it becomes clear that while vaccination works, the reopening has cost a price.
“The UK is on average around 90 deaths a day from Covid. Our reopening has far from been an unqualified success,” said Kit Yates, co-director of the Center for Mathematical Biology at the University of Bath.
Although the death toll is much lower than it was at the peak of the pandemic, as as many as 1,300 people died every day, experts like Yates say it is still unnecessarily high.
And with around 800 Covid-19 patients ending up in hospital every day, Britain’s public health system is again under pressure and unable to provide non-emergency assistance at the level needed, Yates said.
“There is not the capacity to perform all the routine treatment that is needed. As a result, people are missing out on life-saving treatment,” he said.
The number of people waiting for routine hospital treatment has risen to 5.5 million in July from 4.4 million in February 2020, according to NHS providers.
“If there was one lesson I wish other countries would take from seeing Britain’s attempts to reopen, it is that vaccines are not the whole solution to the problem,” Yates told CNN.
“Yes, they do make a huge difference, but if you want to keep an eye on this disease, you need to back up vaccines with other tried and tested public health measures: Mask mandates in indoor public spaces, ventilation in schools and workplaces, a functioning, locally run test, track and insulation system in combination with insulation support, ”he added.
Cases fell, and then rose again
Epidemiologists expected that the reopening would lead to an increase in the number of people infected with coronavirus – but it did not happen, at least not immediately.
While the number of new cases increased just before the restrictions were lifted, it decreased in the first weeks after reopening. This unexpected decline is probably due to the fact that contacts between people are not increasing as fast as some had predicted, and because the Euro 2020 football tournament, which led to an increase in cases, ended on 11 July.
“Fortunately, even though we have technically lifted the restrictions, the UK looks completely different than before the pandemic. My workplace is still virtually deserted. It is quite clear that people are not behaving as they were before the pandemic,” Mark said. Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Diseases of Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh.
“There are a huge number of possibilities for people to change their behavior more to enable more transmission of the virus in the future. Whether they will, we do not know – predicting people’s behavior in the face of an unprecedented pandemic is a fool’s game really, “he said.
The increase in cases before the reopening meant that a large number of people were in quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive. More than 2 million people were “pinged” by the track and trace app in July alone, according to the NHS.
On top of that, the school’s summer holiday kicked off in England on 16 July.
Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, said it has now become clear that schools played an important role in the overall picture, adding that cases in children have been halved every week since the start of the holiday.
But while the overall infection level dropped in the first few weeks after reopening, they have started sneaking in again.
“In the last two weeks, cases in adults have started to rise again, and more than you would know, just by looking at the numbers because they are a bit masked by the big falls in the case of children,” Pagel said.
She said the increase in cases is worrying, for July and August are precisely the months when it should be easier to keep the level of infection down.
“We’re still in a situation where we have a lot of cases and very bad health from covid, so I think there’s a little bit of fear of what’s going to happen when we go back to school in September,” she said.
While admissions to the UK are on the rise, the proportion of people ending up in hospital now is much lower than in the past, thanks to vaccination.
“In January, before the vaccination program really got underway, we saw maybe up to 10% of cases in the hospital. Now the figure is down between 2% and 3%, so vaccines make a huge difference,” Yates said.
The data also show that although overall vaccination rates are significant, the key is in the detail.
The UK has fully vaccinated 60% of its total population according to Our World in Data, while in the US it is 51% according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the overall rate is the same, the United States has more unvaccinated seniors who are more vulnerable to the disease.
“In the ’50s, in our vulnerable populations, we’re 90% to 95% fully vaccinated. And that makes a really big difference. So we have a lot of hospitalizations, but it’s not nearly as high as it could be.” Said Pagel, referring to the British people.
“And if you look at places like Florida that see unsustainable hospitalizations, it’s because they have a higher number of people who are still vulnerable, so even though they generally have high vaccination rates, it doesn’t help them that much because of how it is. distributed among their population, “she added.
According to the Florida Department of Health, 79% of people between the ages of 60 and 64 and 86% of people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated.
Children in the front line
In England, next month’s return to school is a major risk because most children are not vaccinated against the disease.
The British Medical Watchdog, MHRA, has approved shots from Pfizer and Moderna for children and teenagers aged 12 and over, but only clinically vulnerable teenagers have been able to get the shots so far.
The government said Sunday that 16- and 17-year-olds will be offered the vaccine next week, but there has been no announcement of vaccination for younger children.
“We will see lots of students meeting indoors at schools where few or no reductions have been introduced … we should expect to see further increases in transmission when this happens, which will inevitably lead to more cases, more admissions and tragically more deaths, “Yates said.
Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist and senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary University of London, has long been critical of the government’s approach to reopening, arguing that the plan put children at unnecessary risk.
“They may not be individually hospitalized or die at the same rate, but if enough of them become infected, a large number will still be hospitalized and unfortunately some will die. And they get long Covid,” she said, pointing to data released by Office for National Statistics earlier this month, which showed that 34,000 children aged 17 and under suffer from long Covid, of which 22,000 of them say their illness affects their daily activities.
“These are not mild cases … 7,000 have had persistent symptoms for more than a year. It is not mild,” she said.
Pagel said that although schools do not appear to be the major drivers of new injections when overall transmission levels in society remain low, they become a problem when Covid levels are higher – as they are right now in the UK.
“Every other high-income country does at least one of three things … they either vaccinate young people, or they keep mitigation (measures) in schools like masks and social distance, isolation and (invest in) ventilation, or they keep society’s “transmission low … most of them do two of those things. We do not do any of them,” she said.
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