UK facilitates lockdown but India’s variant of Covid threatens summer freedom

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Lively bars and restaurants in Old Compton Street, Soho, London in April 2021.

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The UK further eased restrictions on its economy and social contacts on Monday, but the spread of the Covid variant that first emerged in India threatens a complete lifting of measures.

From Monday, pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to serve customers inside; museums, cinemas and theaters can reopen; and exercise classes and indoor sports can resume. In addition, up to six people or two households can now socialize indoors and gatherings of up to 30 people are allowed outdoors.

International travel can also resume on Mondays with those authorized to go on vacation abroad. Countries were put on a “green”, “orange” or “red” list – with varying quarantine rules upon return to the UK – determined by their infection rate.

While the reopening is a sigh of relief for the hospitality, leisure and travel industry, the lifting of restrictions is tempered by an increase in Covid cases which has been attributed to a variant of the coronavirus that first appeared times in India.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a cautious approach to the reopening, warning that the spread of the new variant could threaten to continue to relax on June 21, as it was hoped that all restrictions on social contacts would be lifted.

Speaking on Friday, Johnson said that there is currently no evidence that the variant will escape the Covid vaccines that are being rolled out across the country, but that the new variant “could seriously disrupt our progress … and I have to stress that we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe. “

He said the variant appeared to be more transmissible than the other strains, but warned it was not clear by how many. England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty speaking alongside Johnson, added that there was “confidence” that the strain is “more transmissible” than other variants already in circulation in the country.

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Increase in cases

The new variant is also believed to be more heritable than a variant that first appeared in the UK last fall. This has become the dominant strain in the country, as well as in the United States and parts of Europe.

Britain reported just over 1,900 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of recorded infections in the UK to 4,450,777. As of Sunday, 15,918 cases had been reported in the previous seven days, in 8.6% increase from May 3-9, according to government data.

This increase in cases has prompted a change in vaccination strategy on the part of the government, with those over 50 and clinically vulnerable people ready to receive their second dose eight weeks after the first dose, rather than 12 weeks after the first dose. previous vaccination strategy.

On Friday it was announced that the UK will provide vaccinations and surge testing in areas where the new variant of Covid first detected in India is spreading.

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To date, almost 70% of the UK adult population has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while just over 38% have received two doses. On Sunday, this United Kingdom passed the milestone of giving 20 million people their second dose of a Covid vaccine.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government would decide on June 14 to lift the restrictions definitively a week later. Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Hancock said the variants were one “of the biggest risks for this opening.”

“Due to the speed of transmission of it, it can really spread like wildfire among unvaccinated groups – so we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, especially those who are most vulnerable to it. end up in the hospital. “

– TBEN’s Matt Clinch contributed reporting for this story.

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