England’s “Freedom Day” got off to a difficult start on Monday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were forced to self-isolate after coming in contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.
Most restrictions on social distancing were lifted in England, with face masks no longer mandatory and no limits on the size of gatherings, including sporting events, weddings, andfunerals. Restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs are now fully open.
Doctors sound alarm
While many in the country celebrate a new lease of life after months of restrictions, scientists remain concerned.
Speaking to the AP, Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, said that he could "not think of any real good scenario to come out of this strategy.”
Last week, daily cases in the country reached 50,000 for the first time since the start of the year, and all of the infections recorded are of the highly contagious Delta variant.
“I think it’s really a degree of how bad it’s going to be,” Tang added.
On July 7, 1,200 doctors and scientists signed an open letter that accused the government of abdicating its “fundamental duty to protect public health” and “recklessly exposing millions to the acute and long-term impacts of mass infection.”
The signatories said that the government policy is likely to “disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities.”
Betting on vaccines
The Conservatives, on the other hand, are betting on vaccine protection, with currently 68.3% of adults fully vaccinated.
But the unvaccinated population remains a concern. According to figures, 65% of the recent infections are in people who haven’t had the vaccine and of the 73 deaths caused in England due to the Delta variant, 47% were unvaccinated.
Many of the unvaccinated include the young, who are the main clientele of nightclubs. According to Tang, “that’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants,” as “they’re in very close contact, heavily breathing, shouting very loudly to the music, dancing with different people.”
Currently, nightclubs and other event organisers are only encouraged to ask customers for proof of vaccine and immunity. But, in the absence of any legal requirement, such measures are hard to implement.
Since the start of the pandemic, England has registered more than 128,000 deaths, second only to Russia in Europe. While infections continue to rise, the rate of hospitalisation and deaths remain lower than before due to wider vaccine coverage.