Covid-19: the United Kingdom is about to succeed in the bet of the total abandonment of restrictions


FOCUS- On January 27, our British neighbors completely abandoned health measures, a first in Europe. Two weeks later, the epidemiological data seem to prove them right.

Since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic, the situation in the United Kingdom has been a reliable indicator for France. With two weeks in advance during each epidemic wave, our British neighbors play a model role in anticipating the evolution of the situation. But the two countries followed different strategies during the fifth wave: while the restrictions are gradually lifted during the month of February in France, the United Kingdom has chosen to lift all the measures at the same time. Thus, since January 27, wearing a mask is no longer compulsory, teleworking is no longer officially recommended and the health pass is no longer imposed for access to nightclubs and large gatherings.

This “let go» and this desire to «living with the virus“, early in Europe, had been greeted with suspicion by the scientific community on both sides of the Channel. Many observers have thus not failed to criticize Boris Johnson for having lifted the measures for more political than health reasons. Struggling with the “Partygate” scandal in his country, the Prime Minister “try to save his place“, had estimated with the Figaro epidemiologist and biostatistician Jonathan Roux at the end of January. But with two weeks of hindsight, do the epidemiological data prove him right?

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Slight and continuous decrease in contamination

It should be noted that the epidemic context was much more lenient in the United Kingdom than in France at the time of the lifting of the restrictions. The country wasin fairly rapid epidemic decline, with a virus reproduction rate of 0.7“, noted at the end of January the professor Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of global health of Geneva. If they still had some 90,000 new daily cases, our neighbors never approached the French peaks, and had been on a real downward slope for about twenty days. Today, it is clear that the pure and simple abandonment of restrictions has not raised the curve, which continues to sag, slowly but surely.

The number of confirmed cases, on average over seven days, in the United Kingdom and France. Our World in Data/Johns Hopkins University

From 90,000 contaminations on average over seven days on January 27, the United Kingdom rose to 79,000, according to figures from Our World in Data. In reality, the country seems to be experiencing a low epidemic plateau. While cases fell by half between the peak of January 5 and January 20, the curves have dropped more slightly since that date, when an average of 92,500 cases over seven days had been detected. Figures to put into perspective with the number of tests carried out each day, less and less important.

No negative impact in hospitals

But the real indicator, which makes it possible to judge the relevance of the measures taken by Boris Johnson, is in the hospital figures. Before lifting the restrictions, the United Kingdom was already in a radically different position from that of France. When our hospitals received nearly 31,000 patients, including 3,500 in critical care, those of our neighbors counted 16,000, including less than 600 in critical care on January 27. The lifting of the measures therefore representedan acceptable risk“, underlined Jonathan Roux, a few days before the fixed date. And two weeks after the deadline, it appears the lifting of restrictions has had no impact on the UK hospital. As of February 9, the United Kingdom has only 13,000 patients left in hospital, including 420 in critical care, according to data from Our World in Data, and the curve continues to decrease there too. For its part, France still has 32,000, including 3,400 in critical care.

The number of patients in hospital, in the UK and France. Our World in Data/Johns Hopkins University
The number of critical care patients, in the UK and France. Our World in Data/Johns Hopkins University

The number of deaths linked to Covid-19 follows the same path. From 263 dead on January 27, when the restrictions were lifted, the United Kingdom fell to 204 on February 10. Except for a peak of 258 dead on February 8, the curve also continues to plunge. As a reminder, the United Kingdom is one of the most bereaved countries in Europe, with more than 158,600 dead since the start of the epidemic.

The daily death toll in the UK and France. Our World in Data/Johns Hopkins University

Our neighbors across the Channel therefore seem to have passed the milestone of a total lifting of restrictions. So the last measure in force – the isolation of positive cases – could jump much earlier than expected. Initially scheduled for March 21, it should finally be lifted on February 21, after the parliamentary recess. It is in any case the wish of Boris Johnson. “Provided current encouraging trends continue, I expect we will be able to lift the remaining national restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate if tested positive, a month early.“, welcomed the head of the British government, who intends for good “living with covid“.


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