The lifting of restrictions on July 19th raised alarms across Europe about the possible exponential increase in cases. In fact, the number of new cases has been declining and confusing specialists.
The world has its eyes set on the evolution of the pandemic in England after the country has totally withdrawn and abandoned the mandatory use of masks. He returned to pre-covid life, with the opening of clubs and pubs on the 19th of July, in what was dubbed the “Liberty DayBy Boris Johnson.
Although 70% of adults are already fully vaccinated, almost half of the population has not finished the vaccination process. Experts and the government itself had expected an exponential increase in new cases, with some estimates pointing to the possibility of having 100,000 new cases daily, and there were concerns in the rest of Europe about a possible impact across borders.
Johnson took the risky move and even claimed that the increase in cases was “predictable” and that “sadly” there would be more deaths caused by covid, but “the continued effectiveness of vaccination” gave confidence to the British Prime Minister.
“If we cannot reopen our society in the coming weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and school holidays, then we have to ask ourselves when are we going to get back to normal?” argued Boris Johnson.
But none of this is happening, at least for the time being. The daily number of new cases in England fell for seven days in a row, having only risen slightly yesterday, when the country registered about 27,700 new cases, 4,000 more than yesterday. Even with this increase, the values are almost half than they were a week ago.
The vast majority of new cases are of the Delta variant. As of July 17, there were about 54,600 new cases, the highest figure since January. However, there was a weekly decline of 21.5% in new infections, despite a 27% increase in admissions and 50% of deaths, according to the The Guardian. If the downward trend in cases is confirmed, admissions and deaths should also decline soon.
These numbers are shuffle the experts, with many wondering whether England may already have achieved group immunity, after three confinements and nearly 130,000 deaths.
The British National Institute of Statistics points out that 92% of adults already have antibodies, either because of the vaccine or because they have been infected, but it is important to emphasize that having antibodies is not the same as being totally immune. The amount of antibodies created once you’ve been infected also varies greatly from person to person.
The threshold of group immunity is tricky as it depends on how the virus and people behave. In theory, 85% of transmission it has to be broken to fight the Delta variant and it is too early to know if this value is being reached.
Euro 2020 and good weather may explain the decline
Stephen Griffin, a professor at the University of Leeds, considers the data “very, very strange” and suggests to Washington Post that can be a consequence of a set of factors, such as the good weather, the end of Euro 2020, people following the quarantine rules or simply avoid taking tests because they want to go on vacation.
The epidemiologist at Imperial College London, Neil Ferguson, whose models have helped shape government policy, believes the pandemic may be a thing of the past, but is cautious. Ferguson revealed to BBC that the effects of Freedom Day may not yet be making themselves felt and that there could be a further increase if the weather gets worse.
“The risk is not over yet. But the equation has fundamentally changed. The effect of vaccines has been huge in reducing the risk of hospitalizations and deaths and I am confident that by the end of September or October, most of the pandemic will be on our backs”, said the epidemiologist.
One possible explanation that the descent is not just due to greater immunization is the shape of the curve. The descent that took place normally follows a confinement, due to the sudden interruption of social contacts. A descent caused by immunization is usually longer and only takes place after several weeks.
“This could still happen, of course, if what we’re seeing is a short-term decline, followed by a new rise and fall“explains the epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh Rowland Kao, to the Guardian.
The end of Euro 2020 is also a theory. During the tournament, there was an increase in cases among men aged between 15 and 44, but the trend reversed after the final.
Kao believes the football connection is “entirely plausible”, as Scotland also saw a drop in cases in the weeks after the country’s elimination from the tournament.
A mini heat wave that passed through the UK is also on the table, as respiratory infections usually go down in summer and increase in winter, as well as the end of school.
“The critical mass of immunity created by vaccines and disease combined with good weather has benefited the UK. But we must not be complacent; there are many communities, especially in disadvantaged areas, where vaccination has a long way to go,” says Iain Buchan, president of the public health unit at the University of Liverpool.
Boris Johnson isn’t celebrating either. In a statement on Tuesday, the prime minister noted the “better numbers” but stressed that it is “very, very important not to be carried away by premature conclusions“. “People have to remain cautious and that remains the government’s approach,” he warns.
Health Minister Sajid Javid also said that “no one knows for sure” the trajectory of the pandemic, after the slight increase that occurred yesterday.
“I hope the descents we saw are sustained. But we’ve already seen that with the Delta variant, things can change. That’s why I think it’s important to remain cautious and not too optimistic”, he says.
What to expect from the future? According to an article in the The Guardian from Graham Medley, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, we should not know if cases have peaked until a few weeks from now and the impact of the 19th will not be clear on the number of cases until the week of August 2nd.
AP, ZAP //