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Masks stay on — Freedom Day postponed as Delta variant gains steam

But restrictions lifted for weddings and some other events

By Ricky Browne

Freedom Day has officially been postponed in the UK, as some scientists say that the UK is entering its third wave.

“We cannot simply eliminate Covid. We must learn to live with it” the Prime Minister said in a statement to the nation.

“Numbers in intensive care units are increasing,” the Prime Minister said.

I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer” Johnson said, to allow more people to be vaccinated. He said second jabs for people over 40 would now be accelerated – with more vaccination of younger people.

A sombre Boris Johnson’s at tonight’s announcement

Weddings can still go ahead with more than 30 guests – as can wakes. There would also be exceptions for some football games and theatrical performances. That decision will come as a huge relief not just to many couples, but also to several businesses.

“I am confident we won’t need more than four weeks and that we won’t need to go beyond July the 19th”” Johnson said. So July 19 is the new date for Freedom Day.

As an aside, the Prime Minister’s decision to make the announcement to the public before making it to parliament, was not appreciated by the Speaker of the House, who made his displeasure known in parliament earlier in the day.

Many people in the UK were looking forward to the remaining Covid-19 restrictions being removed on June 21 – but those hopes were dashed today, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a delay due to the rise in the Delta variant.

The move means that some businesses that had been holding on to restart on June 21That includes wedding planners, who have gone months and months without a job.

Many restrictions have already been lifted – but Freedom Day was meant to remove all remaining limits on social contacts. That would have meant that there would be no limits on the number of people you can have in your home; night clubs, pubs, clubs and cinemas could operate as they could pre-Covid; stadiums could be full of fans for sport events;  and weddings and other celebratory events could have unlimited numbers of guests, as before.

But the more virulent Delta variant has pushed up cases across the country, and the thought is that keeping restrictions in place for a while longer will be better for both the health of the population and the state of the economy. Vaccinations are not as effective against this new variant, which was originally seen in India. One vaccine is only 33 percent effective against this variant, and about 66 percent after a full dose.

The Delta variant is said to be causing 91 percent of new cases in the country.

As a result infection rates, hospitalisation rates and death rates have all been increasing – though the most affected are those that haven’t received any vaccination.

There were some 7490 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday and some eight deaths – showing an increase of about 50 percent over the previous Sunday. Hospitalisations, however, are much lower than previously, thanks presumably to the rate of vaccination.

If the UK is going through a third wave, its intensity is not currently as great as either the first wave in March last year, or the second wave which started in January this year.

Those whose businesses will be affected by a continuation of the restrictions – such as pubs, bars, hotels and night clubs — are complaining loudly about the delay, as is the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer.

Starmer said before the announcement from the Prime Minister, that if the lockdown decision was confirmed, it would be due to government’s “pathetic borders policy” which had caused the Delta variant to enter the country.

It is being widely posited that Government failed to ban travel from India, even though it had banned it from Pakistan and Bangladesh, just when the Delta variant was hitting – because it wanted to ensure smooth relations for an upcoming trade deal.

But if the restrictions were not delayed there would likely be just as many protests, including from the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

But the reality was that June 21st was always the earliest that the restrictions would be lifted, and Johnson was always careful to say that decisions would be based on “data, not dates”.

If it is that the country is now in the beginning stages of a third wave, its hard to see how the government would be forgiven if it didn’t do something to limit the strength of that wave. It will be tough for many businesses, especially those ones which were holding on to  so that they could return to some kind of normalcy. But if the country had to go into a later lockdown with increased deaths and hospitalisations, no one would be cheering.

The strength of this Delta variant is undoing much of the good that was achieved through vaccination. Its existence and the threat it has created amplifies the need for the UK, US, EU and other leading industrialised countries to do all that is in their power to ensure the rest of the world is vaccinated. Because the longer this disease is allowed to exist, the more likely that variants even more dangerous than the Delta variant will emerge.

So the move by the UK to donate 100 million vaccines to the developing world, and for the US to donate 500 million, and for the EU to donate 100 million – is a vital move, not of altruism, but of enlightened self-interest. And the Prime Minister’s appeal for the G7 countries to donate a total of one billion vaccines is definitely a step in the right direction – but even more will have to be done.

Thumbs up at the G7 summit

The G7 summit in Cornwall on the weekend pledged that it would “end the pandemic and prepare for the future by driving an intensified international effort, starting immediately, to vaccinate the world by getting as many safe vaccines to as many people as possible as fast as possible”.

One billion vaccines, when two vaccines are needed per recipient, means 500 million people will benefit. The total number of doses needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population is 11 billion – according to the World Health Organization.

The world currently has a total population of more than 7.8 billion people. Meanwhile the Covid-19 virus has infected some 176 million people and killed more than 3.8 million people.

Currently the three countries with the highest death rates from Covid-19 are all in South America – Paraguay with a rate of 18.93 deaths per million people, Suriname with a rate of 18.75 deaths and Peru with a rate of 18.44, according to Our Wolrd in Data.

The next three countries are also in Latin America, or very close to it – Colombia with a rate of 11.52 deaths per million people, Uruguay with 11.23, and Trinidad and Tobago with a rate of 10 deaths per million people.

Caption AstraZeneca vaccines have been the mainstay of the Covax sharing scheme Photo: EPA

This compares to rate of just 0.14 deaths per million people in the UK, and a rate of 1.09 deaths per million people in the United States and a rate of 2.06 in India.

This latest Delta variant was first seen in India. The next dangerous variant could emerge in Africa, or South East Asia or South America – or anywhere that has low levels of vaccination. And the next one could theoretically be even worse than this variant.

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