The Corona pandemic has not yet been defeated in Great Britain either. To convey this message, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stunned the public with a simple gesture: at Wednesday's meeting of the House of Commons, he put on a mask - for the first time in several months. Less than a week ago, Johnson had refused to do so.
The head of government's change of heart could signal that the British political leadership is preparing itself as well as the population for tougher measures - even if "there is absolutely nothing to suggest that at the moment," as Johnson emphasizes.Official data contradict the prime minister: Around 100 days after the so-called Freedom Day in mid-July, the pandemic situation is coming to a head.
At the end of October, the number of newly registered infections with the coronavirus is hovering around the 50,000 mark, and last Thursday it was even exceeded for the first time in a quarter. The seven-day incidence is 465, which is in the global hotspot range.This development is also reflected in the hospitals. According to the latest data from the British government, a total of 8914 Covid 19 patients are in hospitals, and the number of daily hospital admissions is approaching the 1000 mark on a seven-average basis. There are currently 945 people in UK intensive care beds with ventilators. The previous high was reached at the end of January with 4077 ventilated ICU patients.
For comparison, according to the current daily report of the Divi Intensive Care Registry, 928 of a total of 1808 intensive care patients in Germany are currently being artificially ventilated; here, the peak value dates from the beginning of January with 3211.Especially in hospitals in the largest part of the UK, the current situation has dramatic consequences. Due to hours of waiting outside emergency rooms, at least two patients recently died in England. Normally, the transfer from an ambulance to the emergency room should take no more than 15 minutes.
The cases in the cities of Worcester and Cambridge are now under investigation, but the two lives lost in ambulances remain irretrievable. It is considered likely that they are not the only fatalities of the current situation. More than 140,000 people have been shown to have died in the UK in direct relation to Covid-19. But even without infection, the pandemic is apparently deadly in the UK."We know that unfortunately, some patients die before we reach them," the BBC quotes West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) Director of Strategic Development Mark Docherty as saying. This, he says, is "a totally unacceptable situation."
The national health service NHS is also sounding the alarm. The head of the English regional authority has instructed all hospitals in England to "eliminate" ambulance queues and to stop using ambulances as additional waiting rooms. This is according to an internal letter quoted by the British news agency PA. According to the letter, one patient had to be cared for by an ambulance crew for more than 13 hours.
On the BBC, the chief executive of the Association of Ambulance Service Providers, Martin Flaherty, also explained a grim picture of the situation. Because of the pandemic, he said, his sector is experiencing "some of the highest levels of emergency activity in its history." In addition, he said, the association is "extremely concerned about the unprecedented delays in handovers to emergency departments across the UK."
Adding to the long-standing admonitions from the scientific and medical communities, political pressure now continues to grow. Just earlier, Labour MP Rachel Reeves called on the government to implement the "Plan B" announced by Prime Minister Johnson in mid-September - including mandatory masks and home office regulations.
"If the scientists say you should work from home and put masks on, then that's what we should do," Reeves said on the BBC. In addition, she called for "the government to do more first to make Plan A work."
Last week, the British Medical Association (BMA) was much more outspoken: "It is deliberately negligent of the government in Westminster not to take measures to contain the infections," BMA Chairman Chaand Nagpaul announced and called for the reintroduction of the Corona rules.
Still, however, the Johnson cabinet is insisting on Plan A, which basically relies on stepping up the vaccination campaign with booster shots to push down the number of severe courses. The "Freedom Day" celebrated in the country is to follow up - if necessary apparently at a high price: At the beginning of last week, Health Minister Sajid Javid stated that the number of new infections could reach 100,000 per day in perspective. "We are looking closely at the data and will not implement our Plan B of emergency measures yet," he said, vowing instead to "remain vigilant."
As recently as the spring, Johnson and the political leadership were celebrating their then-rapidly progressing vaccination campaign, and the path to a swift victory over the coronavirus seemed paved. More than a year and a half after the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, the U.K. is once again in crisis, and the vaccination campaign, expanded to include booster shots, is faltering.
The number of fully vaccinated people in the United Kingdom is currently 45.6 million. In a country of 68 million people, this represents a rate of around 67 percent.Despite worrying benchmarks, however, the pandemic situation is not yet out of control, according to the Johnson administration's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. "I think the vaccines have made an absolutely massive difference and now antiviral drugs are coming," he said on Sky News this Thursday.His country "definitely has the tools" for pandemic response, Vallance said. He then acknowledged that the current levels are difficult to interpret. "So I think we have a pretty difficult winter ahead of us," Vallance said. The celebratory mood from the days of "Freedom Day" seems to have faded in the United Kingdom.
Image by Gerd Altmann