“We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases,” Johnson said, taking a potentially career-defining step that he had ruled out just days earlier.
Ten months later, the UK’s attitude towards the Covid-19 has changed beyond recognition. Virtually all of England’s restrictions were lifted in July, with the events and hospitality sectors returning to full capacity as Johnson urged Britons to “begin to learn to live with this virus.”
But the Delta variant — more transmissible still than the Alpha strain which wrecked last year’s festivities — has not gone away.
The country has quietly endured stubbornly high cases, hospitalizations and deaths when compared to the rest of Europe. Britain has registered nearly half a million cases in the past two weeks — and almost 50,000 on Monday — more than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. The UK reported 223 deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since early March.
Johnson has strayed from much of the European Union in his approach; while a number of countries on the continent have introduced vaccine passports, England halted its original plan to do so. Mask-wearing and social distancing and other measures are no longer required by law in Britain.
That contrasts with far stricter measures in several European nations, where proof of vaccination or a negative test are needed to visits bars and restaurants or work in several fields, including healthcare.
Hospitals in Britain are now close to buckling once again under the strain of new admissions. And the country’s early vaccination success risks being undone by a stuttering rollout of booster shots and shots for children.
“Exceptional policies lead to exceptional outcomes,” Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, told CNN. “It’s very predictable. This is a consequence of opening everything up.”
“We’re approaching winter, and things are only going to get worse,” she added.
Some things may yet shut back down; Johnson’s spokesperson admitted on Monday that a “challenging” winter lies ahead, and the Prime Minister has refused to rule out a return of mask mandates or stronger restrictions to protect the country’s National Health Service (NHS) in the coming weeks.
But some experts are clamoring for a more urgent change in approach.
“There’s a whole series of ways (in which) we’re out of line with western Europe and the rest of the world,” said Martin McKee, professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
“We’ve seen in other European countries that collective measures make a big difference,” he said. “We should be asking ourselves: Are we right? (Because) there’s no evidence that we are.”
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