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Why England refuses containment despite the rise in hospitalizations

Posted Jan 5, 2022, 6:58 PMUpdated on Jan 5, 2022 at 7:17 PM

For a month since he launched his “plan B” against the Omicron variant, Boris Johnson has been under pressure to introduce new restrictions, as the Netherlands or Austria have done. The announcement was expected during Christmas week, before being postponed to the day after the holidays. In this first week of January, the British Prime Minister has still not taken the plunge.

In his latest speeches, he even estimated that the country could get through this new wave with the arsenal of measures adopted in December, namely the return to teleworking, the wearing of masks indoors, and a health pass for places hosting a wide audience. “We are sticking to ‘plan B’ for the next three weeks, knowing that the situation will be reviewed by January 26,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

On the contrary, the announcements are rather in the direction of relaxation, since restrictions on international travel, in particular tests before departure and after arrival, have been eased for vaccinated travelers. The British government considers them useless in the face of an Omicron variant now dominant in Europe, and penalizing for the aviation sector.

Fewer restrictions

England thus continues to live with fewer restrictions than the neighboring nations of Wales and Scotland, where indoor gatherings have been restricted. A political bet for Boris Johnson, who seeks to reconcile with his parliamentary majority, where there are ardent defenders of individual freedoms. Faced with Labor who accuse him of jeopardizing the National Health Service, the public health service, the Downing Street tenant replies that “containments have a cost, they have a devastating effect on our physical and mental health, on the employment, on the life chances of our children”.

This bet is not without risk, as the epidemic has spread at high speed under the effect of the Omicron variant. Nearly 3.2 million people had Covid in England in the last week of December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This represents 6% of the population, not seen since March 2020. Although Omicron is proving less severe than previous variants, hospitalizations have climbed by an average of 58% over a week, bringing the total number of hospitalized patients to more than 15,000. This is half the peak reached last winter, but close to that encountered during the first wave, in spring 2020.

Stronger immunity

To face this new wave, England can count on a stronger immunity than in other European countries, acquired both by vaccination and by contamination. The third dose campaign has been deployed at high speed, so that 50% of the population has already received this third dose, compared to an average of 30% in the European Union. Nearly 95% of the English population has antibodies against Covid, according to the ONS survey. This gives it stronger protection than in Austria, for example, where 20% of the population has experienced neither infection nor vaccination, a situation which led the executive to decide on a reconfinement in November.

Finally, the window of opportunity for further restrictions may have already passed. When it had recommended tightening the screw in December, the Sage committee which advises the government affirmed that it would be too late in January to contain the epidemic. This is suggested by the latest projections from the University of Warwick, according to which a closure of public places would have little effect on hospital admissions.

And the wave of hospitalizations is starting to slow in London, where Omicron hit first. But there remains an unknown factor in the equation: the current wave has mainly affected young populations. It remains to be seen what effect it will have when it spreads among older people.

Easing of restrictions for travelers entering England

From Friday, travelers will no longer have to be tested for Covid-19 before their trip and will no longer, if they are vaccinated, have to isolate themselves while awaiting the result of a PCR test carried out after their trip. arrival. They will have to, as was the case before the spread of Omicron, undergo an antigen test within two days of their arrival.

The other British nations (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have not yet indicated whether they will follow England for this relaxation.

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