Like many Canadians, people in Britain had been hoping for months that the country’s rapid vaccination program would turn the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic and lead to a return of some kind of normalcy this summer.
But the emergence of the Delta variant, first detected in India, has given the pandemic renewed vigour and prompted the British government to delay lifting all remaining restrictions on social contacts. Instead of easing the measures on June 21 as planned, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that they will remain in place in England until July 19. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to follow suit.
“Now is the time to ease off the accelerator,” Mr. Johnson said during a press conference. “I think it is sensible to wait just a little longer.”
The rise of the Delta variant has proven to be a cautionary tale in Britain, and scientists say it should serve as a warning for other countries that are almost certain to see a similar surge. “My thought is that it is somewhat inevitable that this variant would take off if introduced enough into a country,” said Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London.
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The British government had been counting on its rapid vaccination program to bring the pandemic under control, and for weeks infections had been falling sharply. Nearly 80 per cent of British adults have had one shot of vaccine and 57 per cent have had two, one of the highest immunization rates in the world.
The government grew confident enough that it began lifting restrictions on social movements in May, allowing pubs and restaurants to resume indoor service and reopening movie theatres and dozens of other venues.
When the Delta variant surfaced in April, health officials hoped the vaccination effort was far enough ahead of the virus to ward off any severe uptick in cases. But the rapid spread of the mutation caught almost everyone off guard.