Why this 'astonishing' UK Covid move threatens rest of the world

·News Reporter
·4-min read

While more than half of Australia's population is forced into lockdown thanks to the highly-infectious Delta variant, it's a completely different story on the other side of the world.

Monday brought the much-hyped 'Freedom Day' for UK residents despite an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases.

And while the move, which saw a lifting of the nation's main social and economical restrictions, has been made possible by an impressive vaccination rate that puts Australia's to shame, there remains concern from experts and members of the public.

Amid the easing of restrictions, people are no longer required to wear masks in public places such as buses, subways and shops.

Social distancing is not mandatory in most places, working from home will now gradually end, theatres and stadiums are reopened, bars and other places resume night service, and there are now no limits on how many people can meet or attend events.

People enjoy the weather on Bournemouth beach in Dorset.
Packed British beaches, which brought much condemnation last year, have returned – but this time the government is welcoming large crowds. Source: Getty

But medical experts are reminding the public to exercise caution as daily infections rocketed beyond 50,000 over the weekend.

Neil Ferguson, a leading epidemiologist and scientific adviser of the British government, told the BBC the number of new infections in a single day could rocket up to 200,000 in the UK as restrictions are eased, and the number of daily newly hospitalised cases may reach 2,000 patients.

Such a level of infection for Australia appears highly unfeasible with its lagging inoculation rate. After all, less than 3 million people of Australia's 25 million population are fully vaccinated.

Australia to 'learn a lot' from UK

Amid suggestion Australia should allow a similar move as NSW struggles to suppress the spread of the Delta variant, UNSW epidemiologist Greg Dore warned Australia's hospital system would be overrun if adopted.

"'Let it rip': Never advocated and never would," he bluntly said on Tuesday on Twitter.

Epidemiologist Dr Emma Miller from Flinders University told the ABC the decision from the UK was “astonishing” and suggested a rise in deaths could come later for the nation.

A graph shows UK daily new Covid cases. Source: Worldometers
The UK are shaping up for another wave that could surpass its previous one. Source: Worldometers

At a press conference on Monday, the British government's chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said that the death toll will rise in the coming weeks with more than 100 deaths expected every day. 

On Tuesday, daily deaths hit 96.

Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, told ABC News Breakfast on Wednesday a silver lining of Australia's delayed vaccine rollout was that it allowed us to learn from nations such as the UK opening up with the Delta variant.

"We'll learn a lot," she said.

Opening up has implications across the globe

There is growing concern about how the move by the UK and other nations such as the US will impact on Covid-19 globally.

“This is a threat not just to England but to the whole world, particularly low and middle-income countries who have very limited access to vaccines,” a group of international scientists said in a joint statement on Friday.

A declaration in The Lancet from a host of experts earlier this month called the move "dangerous and premature", saying allowing a surge increases the chances of variants, which in turn could be resistant to vaccines rolled out around the globe.

Lots of people queue for a nightclub in the UK.
Clubbers queue around the block at a few minutes to midnight waiting for Covid-19 restrictions to be dropped on Sunday night. Source: Getty

"While vaccines can be updated, this requires time and resources, leaving many exposed in the interim," the declaration said.  

"Spread of potentially more transmissible escape variants would disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged in our country and other countries with poor access to vaccines."

UK residents remain divided

While millions of Brits have welcomed Freedom Day, visible in the raft of imagery of beachgoers soaking up the sun as temperatures soar in the UK, some are far more cautious.

There is a push to try and remind other people to always be careful as the pandemic continues to rage across the country.

"From today, they tell people that they don't have to wear masks. This is not a good idea because people still should wear masks because Covid-19 still, in this country, is going up again," one resident said.

"I held the little pole on the train and then I just rubbed my nose without realising it. And if I had the mask, I wouldn't do that or even if I did, that would protect me. So I would say it's just a mask," another resident said.

With Reuters

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