London (AP) – After Boris Johnson released his compatriots on July 19 with the lifting of almost all corona restrictions in England, you could expect a lot.
However, one thing nobody really expected: that the number of infections would decrease. Even Health Minister Sajid Javid had described it as “inevitable” that “Friday Day” would lead to an increase. But things went differently at first.
For about a week, the number of new infections steadily decreased. Most recently, with some 30,000 new infections, slightly more cases were counted than in the days before. However, this number is still well below last week’s levels and well below forecasts made by experts such as epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who expected 100,000 to 200,000 cases per day in the near future. And so the country stared in disbelief at the surprising course of the infection curve.
While experts warn that the kink in the curve could be just a temporary fluctuation, the pro-government ‘Telegraph’ is already accusing science of exaggerating its warnings. So far, no one has been able to say for sure what the reason for the decline is. However, there are several guesses.
The images of crowded dance floors in English nightclubs went around the world – but they are only part of the truth. In a recent survey commissioned by the online portal Politico, more than half of 1,500 respondents stated that they continue to avoid large crowds and wear masks voluntarily. 46 percent believed that the end of the measures had come “too early”. The personal responsibility of the people, to which Johnson repeatedly invokes, could have a decisive influence on the contagion process.
The European Football Championship – or rather the end of it – could also play a role. Several public viewing events, travel and the matches at Wembley with tens of thousands of viewers were timed so that they could have accelerated the massive increase in the corona number, which surpassed 60,000 cases at the peak of the current wave. A review by the Financial Times shows that it was mostly younger men between the ages of 20 and 34 who became infected, suggesting that this happened at football events, often dominated by men. In Scotland, whose own team was quickly eliminated from the tournament, the decline started earlier.
The great hope, however, is that much of the long-awaited decline is also due to vaccine protection. However, these were included in the earlier forecasts. If you include children and adolescents, only 56 percent of Britons are fully vaccinated. That leaves tens of millions of people for whom the virus has it easier. For English adults, the Public Health England agency estimates that about nine in ten now carry antibodies – either from a vaccination or because they survived a corona infection.
Still, concerns remain that the kink in the curve could soon be followed by another and the numbers will rise again. The infection statistics from the Office for National Statistics, which test a representative selection of Britons every week, do not yet show the drop, except in Scotland, but the latest figures do not extend until 24 July. In the medium term, the figures can provide information about whether fewer people are actually infected or whether fewer people are being tested – for example because of the summer holidays.
Downing Street, in London’s government district, has so far held back, although hopes are high that the risky Freedom Day experiment will take place without major catastrophe. It was too early to relax, Boris Johnson said a few days ago. “People have to remain careful and that remains the approach of the government.”
There is still too much concern that the UK’s way out of the lockdown, which Johnson himself advertises as “cautious but irreversible”, will eventually lead to a turnaround. This is exactly what was recently observed in the Netherlands, where the newly opened nightclubs had to close again after a sharp increase in the number of cases. The summer holidays in England are currently promising further relief. But these too will end in a few weeks.