The number of coronavirus cases has been steadily rising in the UK, but the rate of hospitalisations and deaths has stayed relatively low due to the continuing success of the vaccination program. As a result, the majority of restrictions in England are set to be lifted on July 19. But, with the rise of new variants and mutations making their presence known across the country, could there be another winter lockdown on the horizon?
Where do cases in the UK stand now?
As of July 12, 31,722 people in the UK have tested positive for coronavirus, which has risen 27.3% since June 2021. Data from Public Health England suggests that the Delta variant now makes up 99% of positive tests across the UK. As for vaccinations, nearly 46,000 people have had their first dose, while nearly 35,000 have been given their second.
The R rate in England has also increased, and is now 1.2 to 1.5, which means that on average every 10 people will infect between 12 and 15 other people.
What have experts said about a possible winter lockdown?
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dr Susan Hopkins said that “we may have to do further lockdowns this winter” depending on “whether the hospitals start to become overwhelmed at some point.” However, she also points out there are alternative routes to a full lockdown, such as vaccinations, anti-virals, drugs, and testing.
Professor Adam Kucharski told the Telegraph that it’s “very difficult to predict” where the next phase of the virus will lead but “it’s unlikely to be a brief, sharp peak, but rather longer plateau over the summer into autumn.”
What has the government said?
According to the Guardian, the government has been warned of a drastic increase of around one to two million new cases in the next few weeks. As a result, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that caution is “absolutely vital” when restrictions are lifted.
“Cases will rise as we unlock, so as we confirm our plans today, our message will be clear,” Johnson said. “Caution is absolutely vital, and we must all take responsibility so we don’t undo our progress, ensuring we continue to protect our NHS.”
What role will vaccines play?
Since the vaccination rollout began in the UK last December, the “seemingly inevitable link between cases, hospitalisations, and fatalities” appears to have been broken. While cases continue to rise, the rate of hospital admissions and deaths have remained at a relatively low level according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The NHS also has plans for a booster jab programme in September, made available to the over 50s, and adults over 16 who are immunosuppressed and clinically vulnerable, as well as frontline health and social care workers.
A recent UK study also found that mixing two vaccines together “appears to give good protection” against the virus. “Mixing doses could provide us with even greater flexibility for a booster program,” the UK’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told BBC News.