Will the UK lift its last health restrictions on June 21, as on the original schedule? The government will not announce its decision until a week earlier, on June 14, and will keep its eye on the latest data from the Covid-19 epidemic in the meantime.
The lights have turned red in recent days. In particular the number of new cases which, after falling below the 1,500 mark at the end of April, again crossed that of 3,000 in the last week of May, according to the latest official figures. New daily infections have now returned to their mid-April level, around 3,500. If hospital admissions have also started to rise, from less than a hundred in mid-May to around 130 per day in early June, the number of deaths remains at a low level, below 10 per day. The country even recorded a happy record on Tuesday: for the first time since July, no death from Covid has been reported in 24 hours.
Behind these figures, it is a new epidemic in the epidemic that the United Kingdom fears, with the spread of the Indian variant. The B.1.617.2 variant, known as “Delta” according to the new name of the WHO, quickly spread during the month of May, gradually replacing the British variant, which was already more contagious than the initial strain of Covid .
Up to three quarters of new cases
As a result, the number of contaminations by the Indian variant has doubled in one week, according to health authorities, from 3,500 to 6,960. It now accounts for between half and three quarters of new positive cases, Health Minister Matt Hancock said at the end of last week.
It seems, moreover, to have crossed the borders of the few areas in which it dominated until now, in particular near Manchester and in the county of Bedford, north of London. According to data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, it represents all of the new cases of Covid in other regions, especially in the south-east of the country.
Three weeks before the fourth and final stage of the progressive deconfinement programmed by the government, these data make the scientific community fear a new epidemic wave. The British Medical Association thus evoked a “pivotal moment” in the battle against Covid-19 and asked Downing Street to “act with the greatest caution to decide to continue lifting the restrictions”.
The second dose of the essential vaccine
Another lever: to accelerate the vaccination campaign which is already the most advanced in Europe and already concerns everyone over 30 years old. Just under three-quarters of Britons received their first dose and less than half (48.5%) the second.
This second dose is however essential in the fight against the Indian variant. According to a recent study by health authorities, Public Health England (PHE), a single dose of an anti-Covid vaccine only protects 33% against a symptomatic form of the Indian variant. A second dose of AstraZeneca, which the UK has used extensively, provides 60% efficacy, while that of Pfizer-BioNTech provides 88% protection.
Scientists quoted by the “Guardian” are therefore wondering about the possibility of reducing the time between the first and the second dose of vaccine. But this would delay the first injection of people who have not yet been vaccinated.
In the meantime, several countries, including France and Germany, have announced a strengthening of precautionary measures for people arriving from Great Britain, with in the case of France a mandatory quarantine measure.