London, United Kingdom | Despite a vigorous vaccination campaign, the UK is facing one of the highest and rising rates of COVID-19 infection in Europe, raising questions about the ultra-liberal health policy of Boris Johnson’s government.
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Over the course of two weeks, new infections fluctuated between 35,000 and 45,000 per day, with an incidence rate of 410 cases per 100,000 population on October 12, much higher than in the rest of Europe and about 10 times more than in France (44). Only Romania, Serbia and the Baltic states are worse off.
These infection rates are close to those of last winter’s violent wave, although deaths and hospitalizations are still much lower. They don’t seem to worry much about Boris Johnson, whose government in July lifted most of the remaining restrictions, when several European countries introduced health travel permits, and is now looking into the post-pandemic phase.
Scientists explain this particularly high number by the large number of tests carried out in the UK (nearly 900,000 per day) and the fact that young British people, including those over 12, have only been allowed to be vaccinated since September, being tested Several times a week at school.
“It is clear that the infection rate among high school children is driving this continuing tide of new infections,” says Professor Simon Clark from the University of Reading. “A third of positive people in England are in this age group,” adds Kevin McConway, of the Open University, a percentage that goes up to “half” if “we include children over two”.
The UK, one of Europe’s most bereaved by the pandemic with more than 138,000 deaths, has also adopted a very liberal health strategy, doubling up on major domestic events without a vaccine passport and ending in July at the mandatory port of mask in England.
In mid-October, 15% of Britons had never worn a mask, compared to about 5% among their European neighbours, according to YouGov. Even on public transport in London, where it is still mandatory, wearing a mask is not very respected.
Faced with this abandonment, many scholars are now calling on the government to revise its version, especially as winter approaches, a tense period for hospitals. “Some immediate precautions (mask wear and ventilation) would be desirable,” says Jim Naismith, professor of biology at the University of Oxford.
Some scholars are calling on the government to activate its “plan B”, which stipulates the return of some procedures in the event of an exacerbation of winter, such as wearing a mask inside the house or encouraging remote work.
“Obviously we are following the latest statistics closely and have always known that the coming months could be difficult,” a government spokesman said on Monday.
He was convinced, however, that the current approach “remains the right one”: “The vaccination program will remain our first line of defence.”
need to be reminded
The British vaccination program started faster than in the rest of Europe, with nearly 45 million people fully vaccinated (79% of those over 12 years of age).
This broad campaign has significantly underestimated the link between infection and severe forms of the disease, with 7,086 people hospitalized (nearly 40,000 in January) and 972 deaths from COVID-19 over the past seven days.
But that progress, for some experts, is now punishing the country. The first to be vaccinated, the more vulnerable, suffer from reduced immunity to the virus, a fact exacerbated by the extensive use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is less effective than the competitors’ vaccine.
The British government launched its recall campaign in mid-September, which is open to people over 50 and their caregivers, but only 41% of those vaccinated more than six months ago have so far received a new shot, compared to 45% in France.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the Public Health Service was “doing everything in its power to contact eligible people and will continue to intensify its campaigns”.
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