Why the UK seems less likely to go into lockdown than European counterparts

·4-min read
Why the UK seems less likely to go into lockdown than European counterparts

Britons are holding onto hopes of a Covid-free Christmas while countries across Europe are being placed into lockdown.

The Netherlands became the first country in western Europe to impose a partial lockdown from Saturday, which resulted in violent demonstrations against the Government. The restrictions, lasting at least three weeks, include the closure of bars, restaurants and essential shops from 8pm, with non-essential retail and services such as hairdressers to close at 6pm.

Austria entered its fourth national lockdown on Monday and is introducing mandatory vaccines from February due to its existing low uptake.

Case numbers in Germany are soaring with only 7.5 per cent of the population having received a booster shot and a possible lockdown looming. Germany’s health minister said on Monday that Germans would be “vaccinated, recovered or dead” by end of winter.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels to protest against new Covid measures in Belgium while protests also broke out in Switzerland, Croatia and Italy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that he saw no need to move the UK’s winter “Plan B” in which people would be made to wear masks indoors and advised to work from home.

“We don’t know how this wave will wash up on our shores but history shows we cannot be complacent,” he said.

As a fourth wave grips Europe, why is the UK seemingly less likely to face another lockdown?

Demonstrators run away from water cannons during a protest in Brussels (via REUTERS)
Demonstrators run away from water cannons during a protest in Brussels (via REUTERS)

Early reopening

The UK’s reopening in July has brought a level of immunity among younger age groups.

Compared to other parts of Europe, the UK was able to reopen early partly due to timing and partly thanks to advice from Government scientists.

The country suffered with the more infectious Alpha variant and Delta sooner, meaning it reached the position of unlocking before others.

Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance also felt it was better to have a rebound in infection during the summer.

In this way, they hoped the exit wave would be mitigated, with warmer weather, more people outdoors, and less pressure on the NHS compared to the winter period.

But immunity is not enough to stomp our the virus alone, some experts suggest.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told Andrew Marr there is already “quite a lot of immunity building” but “the balance is shifting because of the vaccine programme that has been in place”.

In August, he warned herd immunity was not possible due to the dominant Delta variant which is now ravaging Europe.

Coronavirus vaccines are authorised for use in children aged 12 and over in the UK (Nick Potts/PA)
Coronavirus vaccines are authorised for use in children aged 12 and over in the UK (Nick Potts/PA)

Vaccination Programme

The UK vaccination programme was rolled out much quicker than most meaning more people have some level of protection against the virus.

It also means more people are now eligible for their booster shot which must be given five to six months after the second jab.

Around 88 per cent of over-12s in the UK has been fully vaccinated.

In contrast, around 66 per cent of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in western Europe.

Booster doses have been extended to all over-40s in the UK (Martin Rickett/PA)
Booster doses have been extended to all over-40s in the UK (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Booster Effect

More than 14 million Britons have received their booster vaccine ahead of the colder winter months,

More than 21 per cent have had their third dose compared to six per cent across the EU.

This is because the UK has a healthy vaccine supply but also because so many people are eligible to receive the booster.

Six months ago, 31 per cent of Britons had received two doses while just 14 per cent of EU nationals were fully vaccinated.

It means many Europeans are not yet eligible for the booster but their immunity is waning.

Booster jabs are more than 93 per cent effective at preventing people from contracting the Delta variant and a third dose offers stronger levels of immunity, a study by the UK Health Security Agency found.

Shoppers wearing face masks on Oxford Street (PA)
Shoppers wearing face masks on Oxford Street (PA)

Case numbers

Cases in the UK appear to be levelling off after rising to 50,000 in October.

The nation is unlikely to go into another lockdown as the Covid-19 situation is “fairly stable”, one scientific adviser to the government has said.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of Sage, told Sky News: “Here in the UK, we’ve had high rates of infection for many months now and we’re in a slightly different position to Austria and Germany.

“We’ve had high rates but fairly stable. I don’t think things will happen quite in the same way as they have done there.”

Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic and Slovakia have already reached their peak number of infections while the UK is at 66 per cent, according to Reuters data.

France sits at 35 per cent of its peak, Portugal sits at 16 per cent and Spain sits at just 13 per cent.

Bus passengers view a Christmas light display along Oxford Street, London (REUTERS)
Bus passengers view a Christmas light display along Oxford Street, London (REUTERS)

Government

The UK Government has openly expressed its unwillingness to put the UK back into lockdown.

Mr Johnson has consistently said a national lockdown is not on the cards and the Government has not reached the point where it must consider Plan B which would see the return of mandatory face masks and advisory working from home.

Meanwhile other countries in Europe are more willing to impose restrictions including Germany which has not ruled out another national lockdown and is considering mandatory vaccines.

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