UK Braces Itself for a Third COVID Wave as it May Delay Lifting of Lockdown Restrictions
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
It’s being hailed as perhaps the ‘hardest UK policy decision of the last 18 months’ by senior government advisor Jeremy Farrar. Britain is at a critical juncture in the coronavirus pandemic, as Boris Johnson must decide whether to lift Covid restrictions on the 21st June with a ‘third wave’ looming on the horizon. Despite any criticism one may have of the government, you cannot but appreciate the quandary it faces. If restrictions are lifted, it risks another escalation of the pandemic; if it keeps the social distancing measures in place it will deeply harm the hospitality and tourism industries which are already hanging by a thread.
We have, of course, been here before. In December people were busy making preparations for Christmas when the government announced further restrictions at the last minute. Instead of enjoying the usual festivities, families learned they would not see loved ones again for some time as a second lockdown was put in place. Indeed, experience to date indicates that you take risks with Covid at your peril. On Saturday the UK recorded its highest daily number of new Covid cases for two months – 6238 – as the ‘R’ number has risen now to 1.2, which indicates that the epidemic can grow exponentially.
On a positive note, the uptake of vaccine in Britain is comparatively high – almost 40 million Brits have been vaccinated at least once – 75% of the adult population. It has now been announced that 12-18 year olds will be vaccinated from this summer, in a bid to reduce spread of the virus. Although children and young people do not suffer greatly from coronavirus, they transmit the disease, so it is important that they are also part of the vaccination programme.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said on the BBC on Sunday that he believed vaccine passports were the way forward for combatting the pandemic, as it would allow the vaccinated population to move freely, while those not vaccinated would have to abide by restrictions. A domestic vaccine passport scheme however does not curry favour with the current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, who earlier this year blocked Boris Johnson’s proposals for such an initiative in parliament. The government plan, which said such passports would “likely to become a feature of our lives” and would “potentially” enable people to attend nightclubs, festivals and sporting events, was branded by Starmer as un-British and ‘wrong in principle’.
Tony Blair believes however that the vaccination programme is the only way to get on top of the virus and in response to suggestions that it was ‘discriminatory’ and would lead to a ‘two-tier’ society he stressed it was the only way to combat the pressure from new variants. He said:
‘When it comes to risk management it’s all about discrimination. The reason we vaccinate the elderly is because they’re more at risk; the reason why we ensure people are vaccinated is because it reduces the risk of transmission.’
Mr Blair said it wasn’t acceptable to reject the jab unless you had a ‘good medical reason’ and that people need to have an incentive to vaccinate, such as being granted a vaccine passport and freedom of movement.
However, while huge emphasis is being placed on the vaccine, there are concerns emerging about its overall efficacy. A study carried out this year by the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies showed that 1 in 14 participating patients were admitted to hospital with Covid after having received at least one dose of vaccine. Since early December a total of 500 coronavirus patients were hospitalised who had received either Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccines. It has been suggested that these individuals were infected with Covid at the time of vaccination, but this cannot be known for sure. The NHS states that people will have good protection from coronavirus 3 or 4 weeks after their first jab, but the study findings revealed that 526 people received their injection at least 3 weeks before they were admitted to hospital. 113 of these patients subsequently died from Covid. Such ‘vaccine failures’ as they were referred to by the research team, do not boost confidence in the efficacy of the vaccination programme.
Given the continued virulence of the disease, the government is likely to maintain a cautious approach to lifting restrictions. There are therefore doubts now raised about whether Boris Johnson will put an end to lockdown on 21st June. If there is an increase in hospital admissions in the coming days, it is possible, according to Matt Hancock, that the restrictions will be in place for longer. However this will put further strain on the UK economy, which according to a parliamentary report published on 1st June was suffering a ‘severe recession.’ GDP declined by 9.8% in 2020, and consumer spending in shops and restaurants will be key to its recovery. The government now has to weigh up whether the economic cost of delaying an end to lockdown is one the country can endure.
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