“It is time to take the foot off the accelerator,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, announcing that the final lifting of restrictions against Covid-19 will no longer take place on June 21, as planned. The reason for this is concern over the growth of the delta variant, first identified in India, and the lack of comprehensive evidence of its impact.
Boris said the number of new Covid-19 cases in the country rose 64% last week and even doubled in the worst-affected areas, and hospitalizations have accelerated, increasing by around 50% on weekdays last. According to him, before lifting all the restrictions, it is necessary to accelerate the vaccination and evaluate the evolution of the data in the weeks to come.
The delta variant has become the main one in England, changing the parameters of risk assessment, according to medical director Chris Witty. The next possible opening date is July 19. Boris, however, maintained some flexibilities, such as allowing weddings with more than 30 guests, from June 21.
Experts accepted the postponement because they saw risks in the current data. “The arrival of the delta variant has changed the risk assessment of reopening: it is more transmissible, it causes more serious disease, and vaccines are less effective against it,” said Mark Woolhouse, professor of epidemiology at the ‘University of Edinburgh.
Despite the success of the British vaccination campaign, only a third of the population is fully protected against the delta variant – given the number of doses already applied and the effectiveness of each vaccine against this Sars-Cov-2 mutation.
Until that second (14), according to UK government data, 22% of adults aged 18 and over have not received any injections and 22% are still waiting for the second dose. In addition, the protection of the vaccines decreases compared to the delta variant. According to the Public Health of England (PHE), the efficacy of a single dose is 33%, and a study published in The Lancet points out that the two-dose range varies from 60% to 79%, depending on the immunizing agent. . .
In addition to the slightly lower protection offered by the vaccine, the delta mutant also increases hospitalizations. Figures just released by the Scottish government indicate that those infected with the Delta are 85% more likely to be hospitalized than those infected with the alpha variant.
“But there is still not enough data on the effect of the delta variant on intensive care needs and on deaths. These are important determinants of any decision to remove – or even resume – restrictions against contagion, ”says Rowland Kao, professor of data science at the University of Edinburgh.
Taking the time to better understand this impact is important, according to Woolhouse. “A large wave of infection – especially among young adults who have not yet been vaccinated – could spread the disease among those who have not yet been vaccinated or the most vulnerable, straining the health system “, did he declare. The postponement also allows further progress in vaccination.
Even if it did not promise full freedom from June 21, the UK government can expect a wave of criticism for Monday’s announcement, which will be seen as a delay, said Ivo Vlaev, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Warwick. “It’s because of what we describe in psychology as loss aversion – we suffer a lot more from losses than from gains of equivalent value.”
According to him, those who have something to lose with the postponement – having planned a wedding or a trip – will be disappointed, as they already had the expectation of fulfillment, which has been withdrawn, and this could reduce compliance with the measures. restriction. “Some people may think ‘the government promised me my freedoms and associated pleasures after June 21, now they are taking them away from me’, and this disappointment is likely to undermine confidence in the government, which is the main driver of the regulatory compliance, ”he says.
But for most people, there won’t be big changes in their daily lives and they will continue to comply with the restrictions, Vlaev says. “Research shows that it takes an average of 2 months to develop a habit, so we just need to continue our daily routines a little longer,” he says. He also adds that when the government offers a credible explanation for something nasty, the negative impact is less.
King’s College London professor of psychiatry Simon Wessely said the impact on people’s moods would be greater if the government backed down and started reimposing rules that have been relaxed. “Research suggests that more people will be relieved than dismayed by the decision. For many, it’s the continued relaxation of the rules, not the postponement, that generates anxiety, ”he says.