Britain has had one of the most successful Covid-19 responses in the world in recent months.
Unlike the European Union, the UK government understood that getting vaccine doses quickly was more important than negotiating the lowest price. Unlike the United States, Britain was willing to re-impose nationwide restrictions late last year to reduce the number of cases. UK officials have also chosen to maximize the first vaccines and delay the second, recognizing the strategy could reduce Covid cases more quickly.
Thanks to these measures, Covid has retreated faster in Britain than in almost any other country. Fewer than 10 Britons per day have died in recent weeks, compared to 1,200 per day at the end of January. On a per capita basis, Britain’s death rate last month was less than a tenth of the US rate.
Despite this success, Britain is now facing an increase in Covid cases. The main cause appears to be the highly infectious viral variant known as Delta, which was first detected in India. Britain’s recent steps to reopen the company are also likely playing a role.
The increase is a reminder that progress against the pandemic – even extreme progress – does not equal ultimate victory. Britain’s experience also suggests cases may soon increase in the US “What we are seeing in the UK is very likely to appear in other Western countries soon,” John Burn-Murdoch of Financial Times wrote.
How bad is that?
Compared to where Britain was in January, the recent increase in Covid cases is minimal:
But there is always cause for concern. As small as it sounds on this graph, new cases of Covid have more than doubled over the past month, from around 2,000 per day to over 4,000 per day.
Pandemics feed on themselves, both ways. When new workloads decrease, it increases the chances that they will continue to decrease, as fewer newly infected people are able to pass the virus on to others. When the number of cases increases, the opposite happens.
With around 40% of Britons still not having received a vaccine, the recent increase could worsen considerably. The country is at a “turning point”, as Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association told the BBC.
Will deaths increase?
Fortunately, the current outbreak will almost certainly cause fewer deaths than previous outbreaks, as most people vulnerable to serious illnesses have already been vaccinated. About 90 percent of Britons aged 65 and over received both injections. And the vaccines continue to appear effective against the Delta variant, researchers say.
So far, deaths have barely increased, and they may not increase much; the Covid mortality rate among those under 40 is very low. But it is too early to know. Trends in Covid deaths generally follow trends in cases by a few weeks. If the Delta variant ends up being significantly more severe, it could lead to increased deaths.
“There is reason to be hopeful – we don’t see a big trend in hospital admissions – but it’s only the early days,” James Naismith, who heads the Rosalind Franklin Institute, told The Times. a research center. “If we don’t see anything by June 14, we can expire.”
British officials are wondering whether to stick to their previous plan to remove all activity restrictions on June 21 or to push that date back.
First shots against second
A vaccine unknown is the ideal time between the two injections (for vaccines that require two, as most do). The United States is staggering the firing by just a few weeks, while Britain has made it wait up to 12 weeks for the second. Overall, the UK strategy seems to have worked better.
But the Delta variant adds a wrinkle. Data suggests that it is more contagious than the original virus and more likely to infect people who have only received one injection.
I have noticed some confusion on social media and in news reports about what this means. This does not necessarily mean that the British strategy was wrong. Obviously, two hits are better than one for each version of the virus. Yet this is not the choice countries face.
The choice they face is the one they should prioritize: first shots or second shots. Any dose given as a second injection is not available to be given as a first injection, and vice versa. The evidence continues to suggest that the first strokes make a bigger difference than the second strokes, including for the Delta variant, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist told me.
But the Delta variant calls for some changes in Britain, according to many scientists. The country is accelerating the second blows for vulnerable people. And people who have only received one injection should not behave as if they were vaccinated, said Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh.
Three courses in UK
I see three main lessons from the recent increase in the number of cases in Britain:
First, vaccines remain by far the most effective way to overcome this terrible pandemic. Nothing matters more than the speed at which gunfire comes out – in Britain, the United States and especially in the poorest countries, where vaccination rates are still low.
Second, behavior restrictions can still play a role in the meantime. If hospitalizations or deaths in Britain increase over the next two weeks, there will be a strong argument to push back a full reopening of activities. And that also has obvious implications for the United States. It is especially important to restrict activities inside unvaccinated people.
Third, the number of cases is not as important a measure as it used to be. Before vaccines were available, more cases inevitably meant more hospitalizations and deaths. Now the connection is more uncertain. As a recent Times article, paraphrasing British scientists, put it, “The increases in new infections are tolerable as long as the vast majority do not lead to serious illness or death.”
Over the next couple of weeks I promise to keep you updated on Great Britain and the Delta variant.
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A little-known part of Dutch history
The Netherlands rarely struggles with its role in the global slave trade. A large museum in Amsterdam aims to change that, with the opening of ‘Slavery’, an exhibition on Dutch colonial history.
Slavery was prohibited in the Netherlands, but it was legal in the Dutch colonies. Mainly through huge trading companies, the Dutch enslaved over a million people. The Rijksmuseum exhibition, which opened on Saturday, presents this story through 10 true stories of merchants, abolitionists, slaves, those who bought them and others. It includes objects from the period, such as portraits of Rembrandt.
The Netherlands often celebrates its trade history and the exhibition attempts to uncover a largely unknown part of this past. It is “a small, late step in recognizing the pain that has been inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people on several continents,” writes Tim Fraanje in Dutch Vice. – Claire Moses, a morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to cook
Friday’s spelling contest pangram was pedagogy. Here is today’s puzzle – or you can play it online.
Here are today’s mini crosswords, and a hint: the singer from “Good as Hell” (five letters).
If you want to play more, find all of our games here.
Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. – David
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