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England reopened in the middle of a Delta wave, then cases plummeted.  Are there any lessons for the United States?

LONDON – It looked like an ongoing disaster: England lifting almost all restrictions on coronaviruses, just as the highly transmissible delta variant skyrocketed infection rates.

But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bet may well pay off, at least in the short term, offering a lesson to other countries desperate for light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

“I think the UK is in a very favorable position, a better position than it has ever been during the pandemic,” said Francois Balloux, professor of biosciences at University College London. “I would say the near future, and maybe even the long term future, looks better than it has ever been before.”

Vaccines are essential to Britain’s apparent success. The UK has one of the most successful campaigns in the world, with more than 88 percent of adults receiving a dose and 73 percent per second, government data showed on Wednesday.

For the United States, that drops to 70% for one dose and 60% for two – and rates are much lower in southern states such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Officials are now in the same variant vaccine race that Britain fought this summer.

“A lot of people in the US and Europe are following the UK situation very closely,” Balloux said.

Experts were dismayed when Johnson last month pursued ‘Freedom Day’ – so named by the tabloid press – despite the UK suffering from the world’s highest daily infection rate in the world. ‘era.

English restaurants were allowed to open at full capacity, basses once again rocked the dance floors of nightclubs, and social gatherings were not limited in size. (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own health policies and have reopened a bit more cautiously.)

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Masks were no longer required on public transport and English shops – although some city authorities, such as Transport for London, kept them in place.

Some citizens reacted with concern, especially vulnerable people who believed that letting infections spread across the country put them at risk because vaccines do not fully protect them.

Others drank it – literally regarding the dancefloor crowds that counted until midnight on July 18, when UK restrictions were lifted. Most controls had already been relaxed in time for Euro 2020, a football tournament held in part at Wembley Stadium in London.

The rough sea of ​​drunken bodies on the day of the England-Italy final left no clue that a pandemic was still raging. Experts believe the tournament, coupled with an early summer washout, are two reasons why cases rose sharply from late May to mid-July.

London’s Egg London nightclub in the early hours of July 19.Rob Pinney / Getty Images

Even though the government’s “wall of immunity” kept most of those vaccinated out of hospitals and morgues, many critics worried that allowing cases to reach 200,000 per day (as one predicted former government science adviser) could spawn new variants and leave hundreds of thousands of people with long-Covid. Some have accused Johnson’s Conservative Party of paying more attention to their libertarian beliefs than to science.

But the government has stood firm. And in mid-July, when daily cases hit 60,000, they started to decline. Data from Scotland are more encouraging, where infections not only started to decline weeks ahead of England, but were also followed by a drop in hospitalizations.

This third wave for the UK has nothing to do with its first two, which caused nearly 130,000 deaths and briefly the highest daily deaths per capita in the world. While the January peak recorded 80,000 daily cases and 1,300 daily deaths, July’s peak of 60,000 daily cases resulted in only 78 deaths in one day.

Experts say this is compelling proof of the potency of vaccines.

The decline of Scotland and England followed their respective Euro 2020 exits. During the tournament, men were 30% more likely than women to test positive, according to an Imperial College study. from London. This, after weeks of mostly male fans crowding onto trains to go to stadiums and crowding into pubs to watch games.

Declining cases have been a brief period of good weather, many experts say, with hundreds of thousands of children missing from school due to infections or symptoms, or being ordered to self-isolate due to close contact with people who test positive.

The vaccine has also been supplemented. The UK has seen two devastating waves in 2020, which means that today, whether by gunshot or disease, an estimated 90% of people have Covid-19 antibodies, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Shoppers in Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill in London on July 31.Niklas Halle’n / AFP via Getty Images

The UK is still far from off the hook, however

Allowing a large number of cases to circulate could lead to more variations. The state-funded National Health Service is unlikely to collapse, as fear was during the height of the pandemic, but some hospitals are under great pressure as Covid-19 admissions worsen arrears and tensions in other areas.

In addition, many experts expect cases to increase again in the fall and winter, when children return to school and adults huddle inside to escape deteriorating weather and harsh weather. long British nights.

This paved the way for the final battleground of the UK pandemic: childhood immunizations.

The UK says children over 12 will only be offered a vaccine if they are vulnerable or live with someone who is. Government advisers say the risk of side effects, including inflammation of the heart muscle, is extremely low. But the same goes for their risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

Critics say failing to immunize children leaves a gaping hole in Britain’s herd immunity wall.

“We should use this precious time to prepare for school openings and vaccinate adolescents,” said Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, tweeted on Monday. “If declines in school attendance and subsequent closings were in part responsible for this drop, they will reverse when schools open.”

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