LONDON: At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March last year, Boris Johnson stood gravely in front of television cameras and told Britain the harsh reality. “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time,” he said.
If this was the moment that made people realize the gravity of the ongoing crisis, the planned lifting of restrictions on coronaviruses next month will force the British Prime Minister to put himself at the public level again.
More loss of life is inevitable, and the question is how many more deaths will follow as collateral damage to save the economy.
Having inoculated a greater proportion of people than any other major economy, Britain is emerging as a test case in Europe as it attempts to draw a line under Covid-19. Infection levels are now back to their highest level since February and the pound is taking a hit for fear that a recovery will slide further into the future.
Johnson described the July 19 unlocking of the economy as a “terminus” after announcing a four-week delay due to the increase in the number of cases. This involves the next pivotal risk calculation as ministers and officials examine data to prove vaccines massively sever the link between the virus and critical illness.
But they know the infections won’t go away, nor the reluctance of some of the public to return to offices, pubs and nightlife.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament on Wednesday that the goal is now to live with the virus like the flu, as the hotel industry and some members of the ruling Tories call for a return to normalcy two weeks earlier.
“The question is, what level of infections and hospitalizations are we prepared to tolerate? Said Lawrence Young, virologist at Warwick Medical School.
The government says waiting another four weeks will prevent thousands from adding to what is already Europe’s highest death toll by allowing more people to receive their second dose of the vaccine.
Data shows it’s crucial to protect against the Delta variant which was first detected in India and now accounts for 99% of UK cases. Two-thirds of UK adults will be fully vaccinated by July 19, according to the government.
While figures from Public Health England reported on Thursday showed infections were on the rise in all age groups, case rates were highest among people aged 20 to 29, many of whom have yet to be vaccinated. All people over 18 are now starting to be offered injections. (story continues below)
People walk past an information board in Bolton, England on June 16. (Photo Reuters)
The UK economy is around 5% smaller than it was before Covid and some pandemic injuries could turn into scars. Nightclubs remain closed, restaurants and pubs struggle to break even with capacity limits, and airlines suffer more restrictions on overseas travel than the rest of Europe.
The delay in reopening could cost the hotel industry £ 3 billion (US $ 4.1 billion) in sales and impact bookings throughout the summer and beyond, according to Kate Nicholls, director general of the main professional association in the sector.
Luke Johnson, chairman of Risk Capital Partners, accused the government of “neurotic risk aversion”. The private equity firm has invested in a number of restaurant chains.
“Much of the public remains irrationally scared – and investors and business owners suffer more loss and uncertainty,” he said. “A culture of safety means jobs will disappear and businesses will fail. “
Indeed, Britain seems more out of step with other European nations. The Delta variant is “about to take hold” across the continent, senior World Health Organization official Hans Kluge warned last week. Still, Germany and France are relaxing their Covid rules this summer, and the European Union on Friday lifted travel restrictions for US residents.
The travel industry has denounced UK government measures to force returning passengers from most countries into quarantine, regardless of their vaccination status. Italy on Friday instituted a five-day isolation for travelers from Britain to the country due to the increase in the number of cases.
What Johnson needs to balance is the future number of coronavirus deaths and the damage caused by 15 months of restrictions, including undetected cancers, deteriorating mental health, business closures and loss of business. ‘jobs.
According to Jamie Jenkins, a former health analyst at the Office for National Statistics, many people are now too “scared” to do what they used to do. The government is expected to launch a national risk debate before July 19 so the public is prepared, he said.
“We’re going to have to accept a certain level of risk and we should be having this debate now,” Jenkins said. “We will never get to zero deaths. “
A survey carried out by JL Partners for the Daily mail newspaper in April found that 65% of those polled would primarily support lifting the restrictions if the death toll from Covid was the same as the flu.
There were just under 4,000 deaths in England during the 2018-19 flu season, according to official data. The Covid is also both more contagious and more deadly.
The vaccine supply is also a cause for concern. Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the deployment, warned on June 11 that Pfizer-BioNTech fire would be “tight” in the coming weeks. People under the age of 40 have been advised not to take the AstraZeneca vaccine due to concerns about very rare blood clots.
Some members of the ruling conservatives are pushing the government to move faster, no matter how successful the vaccination program has been in bringing the virus under control.
Former Minister Steve Baker warned Britain would be “a hollow and haunted country after the collapse of all affected businesses”.
As House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said in a ConservativeHome podcast, “You can’t run the company just to keep hospitals from being full.