A country whose Covid-19 “let it tear” plan has been called “dangerous” and “unethical” may be on the verge of having the last laugh.
It is the nation that has been mocked for its risky “let it snatch” attitude towards Covid-19, removing nearly all restrictions in a single day and hoping for the best.
In recent months, as cases skyrocketed, there seemed to be proof that this was a flawed plan. There were fears that a new “Delta plus” strain had caught on and rumors that a Covid “plan B” should come into effect, effectively a semi-blockade.
But the UK may be on the verge of having the last laugh, with Covid cases dropping drastically for weeks just as new infections in other parts of Europe – where restrictions were tougher – head north.
A huge spike in cases in Germany means, for the first time in a long time, that the UK is not the most Covid-prone nation in Europe.
An epidemiologist said the UK could have found a “unique” method to deal with Covid, based not on restrictions but on immunity.
However, other health watchers have warned that what may appear to be a downward trend may just be a blip.
Cases in the UK on the decline while in Europe on the rise
On Thursday, the UK registered 42,408 new cases. That’s still a big number, and it’s been an increase from the previous day. But the seven-day average of cases is now 34,312 across the country, a 19% drop from two weeks earlier. In contrast Germany recorded 50,196 cases on Thursday.
If you look at the population cases, the UK is still overtaking Germany, but only by a hair’s breadth.
The continued decline in cases in Britain through Thursday – 16 days – was the longest in the country for six months.
It comes after the cases increased on October 22 to more than 51,000 per day. At the time, there were five times the daily cases in Germany.
At the end of October there were concerns about the AY. 4.2 Delta variant, nicknamed Delta plus.
Asks for an “urgent search” on AY. 4.2 resounded with fears that it might be more transmissible and could be the cause of an increase in infections in the UK.
However, health experts have urged caution in pinpointing AA 4.2 as the cause, as Britain has had few or no restrictions since July’s so-called “freedom day”.
Britain’s “dangerous” plan was rejected
The decision to abandon nearly all preventive Covid measures in June was criticized as “Silly”, “dangerous” and “unethical” by a number of health commentators.
But the UK government was committed to the “freedom day” plan which was memorably summed up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “if not now, when?”
The hope was that while cases of Covid-19 could initially increase in the nation by 65 million, enough people would become immune, through vaccination or infection, by the time the risky winter hit. large sections of the population would have been protected.
At the end of October, that hope seemed in vain with the appeals for the start of “plan B” restrictions which could include vaccine passports, work from home, and mandatory face covers to reduce numbers.
But since that late-October peak, the numbers have declined with no plan B being put in place.
Julian Hiscox, an infection professor at the University of Liverpool in the UK, told the paper that Financial Times that the drop in the number of cases was “unique” because it was “almost entirely due to the immunity wall, rather than behavioral changes or restrictions”.
The reasons behind the UK case fall apart
Two reasons were given for autumn: one focusing on older Brits and the other on young people.
The UK is now halfway through its own recall program of the administration of a third shot. Around 80% of people in England over 80 who are already fully vaccinated have had a booster vaccination.
In the 70-79 cohort about 70% have three hits. And it is in these two age groups that cases have declined the fastest.
This means that it could be a similar story for Israel which has seen a spike in cases that has been attributed to decreased immunity. As of September, Israel recorded up to 11,000 cases per day. But after the boosters, it’s now down to around 500.
It is worth mentioning that even during recent spikes in cases in both the UK and Israel, hospitalizations and deaths were still much lower than in previous covid waves. The difference is vaccination.
‘We could end up in a very nice window thanks to the timing of our recall program, whereby our peak of population immunity coincides with the winter months when the health service is under the most pressure,’ said Professor Hiscox.
The drop in cases was last seen among younger Brits. This could be due to the 12-15 year old shot being offered a single dose of Pfizer since mid-October. However, that program still has a way to work, so it’s also possible that so much Covid has poured into schools that some children now have a level of immunity.
The UK may have reached its covid peak of the year
Further support for this hypothesis is that UK cases are now generally lower in large cities such as London which have had a high prevalence of covid.
A report from the UK’s Health Safety Agency, which monitors covid cases, said the turnaround was first noticed in the younger age groups.
The government agency also said hospital admissions for Covid have decreased.
A study in early November by health science company ZOE predicted that Covid cases in Britain could peak for the year. Again, this was driven by a decline in cases in young people.
“Young people have led the large number of cases and from our data it appears that the large numbers are over,” said Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London. The Guardian earlier this month.
If still “small rater”
However, others have said that the drop in numbers didn’t mean Britain was off the hook.
While booster shots and infection-conferred immunity might reduce some cases, this could be offset by more international travel and indoor mixing as winter takes hold.
Britain’s vaccination rate has also stabilized at around 68 per cent of the double jabbed of the entire population. It’s a decent level, but it means there are still 20 million Brits who haven’t been immunized and are more at risk.
It is slightly lower than in Australia, where the vaccination roll began much later and is also far behind Portugal, where 86 per cent have had two vaccinations.
Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Rohini Mathur told al Financial Times that the vaccination gap meant that herd immunity in the UK could still prove elusive.
“The recent reductions we have seen are still quite small in magnitude and do not yet indicate any kind of long-term trend,” said Prof Mathur.
Covid watchers will focus on Britain’s numbers to see if it has really found a way out of the pandemic or is still looking for a path.
Originally published as The UK has the longest reduction in Covid-19 cases in six months