Why the British don't fear high infection rates

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Mon 22nd Nov, 2021

The British are fascinated by the dramatic situation on the continent and wonder whether they too will soon face new restrictions. But politicians and scientists are waving them off. The government wants to stick to its "Plan A," which foresees no restrictions, while epidemiologists cite several reasons why no explosion of infections is to be expected in the kingdom.

At first glance, it is surprising that there is such a discrepancy between developments in the United Kingdom and in Germany, for example. Vaccination rates are similar in both countries. But while the infection figures in Germany have risen rapidly to a peak, they have been stagnating at a high level in the kingdom for four months - and without mandatory masks or 3-G detection, at least in England.

After the abolition of the Corona measures in July, "Freedom Day," the infection figures had initially fallen - to the amazement of many scientists - only to rise again after two weeks. Since August, they have fluctuated between 30,000 and 50,000 a day, hovering mostly around the 40,000 mark (or an incidence around 400), including Sunday. The number of daily hospital admissions has fluctuated between 600 and 1000 since the summer and the number of deaths between 100 and 200 a day. Corona is now only the third leading cause of death after dementia and heart disease.

Scientists see the long period of high infection rates as one reason why Britain is "ahead of Europe," as Oxford vaccine researcher Andrew Pollard put it Sunday. According to epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who has a similar role on the island as Christian Drosten does in Germany, the higher infectivity has "a downside, of course.

Paradoxically, however, it has the advantage "of increasing the immunity of the population in comparison with countries such as Germany and France. The effect is particularly noticeable in schools. After having been the main driver of infections for months, the infection rates there are falling again. 

Overall, about 14 percent of Britons have been infected since the pandemic began and enjoy - or temporarily enjoyed - natural protection. In Germany, the figure is only six percent. British scientists believe another factor is the time lag with which the much more contagious delta variant appeared in many EU countries. "It hit these nations at a time when vaccination protection - especially among the first-vaccinated risk groups - had already begun to decline significantly," said Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh.

Michael Head of Southampton University cites a third reason for the UK's more advantageous position: "The kingdom started its vaccination program before most other countries and therefore dealt with declining vaccination coverage earlier."

Accordingly, the UK began boosters earlier and has now immunized virtually all at-risk groups with a booster; starting this Monday, those aged 40 to 49 will be invited. Nearly 15 million Britons have received their third vaccination; in more populous Germany, the figure is just eight million. Health Minister Sajid Javid on Sunday called this "the critical difference."

However, there is little sign of triumphalism on the island. The pandemic has already taken too many turns. But the basic mood is cautiously optimistic, also with regard to possible virus variants. Delta is already such a contagious variant that successors "would have to be pretty good to be any better," Pollard said Sunday. The government opposes mandatory vaccination in principle. Asked Sunday if he would "ever allow compulsory vaccination in the U.K.," Health Minister Javid replied, "No." Vaccination must remain a "positive choice," he said.

The government also sees no reason to switch to its "Plan B." This plan envisages reactivating the mandatory masking requirement in the event of an overburdened healthcare system, calling for homework, and possibly introducing vaccination cards. Overload, however, is interpreted generously. The NHS, traditionally strained in winter, currently provides only limited services.It now takes an average of one hour for paramedics to treat acute heart attacks or strokes. In October, more than 7,000 patients waited twelve hours or longer at emergency departments to see a doctor. Nearly six million Britons are on the NHS "waiting list" for treatment and surgery.

Photo by Kristina Gadeikyte


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