Great Britain – does gambling with the virus come off lightly?

On November 27th, Omikron arrived – both in the UK and other European countries. But that’s where the similarities in dealing with the highly contagious virus variant stop. In the UK, Omikron encountered an almost unrestricted society and expanded at lightning speed. Prime Minister Boris Johnson allowed this to a large extent and declared booster vaccinations under the slogan “Get Boosted Now” to be the highest national mission.

Even a slight tightening of his corona policy – more masks indoors and vaccination certificates for clubs and major events – triggered a rebellion of unprecedented proportions in the ranks of his Tory party. Since the days before Christmas, the English corona strategy can be outlined as follows: Close your eyes, boost – and play Russian roulette with the virus.

In many countries, the measures were tightened, while in the parallel universe of England football continued to be played and celebrated – whether vaccinated or unvaccinated. Internationally, many observers agreed: a catastrophe with an announcement.

It remains complicated

But now, a few weeks later, the situation is more complicated. It has now been proven that Omikron makes people seriously ill less often – however, the sheer mass of infected people means that many patients are hospitalized. No one in England is calling for tightening; according to the experts’ models, it is too late for that. Instead, the question arises: Was it worth gambling with the virus? Will the British be spared the great catastrophe, even though there were hardly any restrictions?

This narrative seems to be gaining ground in political London, especially since the death rate, at around 300 per day, is far below that of last winter. In an interview with the BBC this week, British Minister Michael Gove declared his campaign for stricter measures retrospectively to be in error and said of Johnson’s controversial course: “His assessment has come true.”

On the other hand, daily news from the health system that sounds unsettling. According to the Guardian, 24 hospitals have declared an emergency since the New Year. This means that they feel that they cannot continue to operate as usual. The military is on duty to fill in the gaps. Thousands of emergency patients have to wait hours for treatment. In the north of the country, heart attack patients were asked to call a taxi to the hospital themselves. The National Health Service (NHS) has concluded contracts with private providers in order to be able to use their capacities.

New mini emergency hospitals

In addition, mini-emergency hospitals are being set up again in gyms or training centers so that patients can be admitted to 4,000 extra beds if necessary. The main problem, however, is currently not the lack of space, but the lack of medical staff – because so many fail at the same time because of Omikron.

On January 9, the NHS England lacked more than 40,000 employees in connection with Covid-19 – more than three times as many as at the beginning of December. “The NHS is not overwhelmed, but definitely very stressed,” said Azeem Majeed, a doctor from Imperial College London, of the German press agency. But he also admits: Despite everything, the burden is not as severe as it was a year ago when the alpha wave hit the country.

After every tenth person in London was infected at times, Omikron seems to be slowly running out of strength. The fact that the curve of new infections and hospital admissions has been falling for a few days gives reason to hope that the worst may soon be over. Majeed assumes that the number of cases will still remain at a high level for a long time – and warns against lifting the few applicable measures too early. However, these legally expire on January 26th. It is considered unlikely that Johnson, who is under pressure because of lockdown parties on Downing Street, will even attempt to extend it again.

More caution in Scotland and Wales

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales decide independently about their Corona measures – and are taking a much more cautious course. Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford recently accused Johnson of failing to protect English citizens from Covid.

Corona expert Christina Pagel fears that the current combination of new variants, dwindling vaccination protection and hardly any countermeasures will condemn England to “massive waves of infections once or twice a year,” as she recently wrote on Twitter. This will increasingly weaken the health service and repeatedly cause severe disruptions in public life. Even for dealing with further crises – such as further pandemics or the climate crisis – this is not a functioning strategy. “We are moving backwards,” is the scientist’s verdict. (dpa)

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