Johnson aspires to normality without social restrictions by end of June

By Guillermo Ximenis

London, Feb 22 (efe-epa).- The accelerated anti-Covid vaccination program in the United Kingdom could allow the government to cancel restrictions on social contact by the end of June, according to the plan set forth by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Parliament on Monday.

Johnson said that the plan would guide “us cautiously but irreversibly towards regaining our freedoms while doing all we can to protect our people against Covid,” adding that he hoped this would be a “one-way road to freedom.”

The plan – which depends on a continued decline in hospitalizations and deaths and no new coronavirus variants arising that threaten the effectiveness of the existing vaccines – will go into effect on March 8 with the reopening of schools and universities and will conclude, according to the most optimistic scenario, on June 21 with the end of all legal limits on social contact and with a green light for large-scale in-person events.

The scheduled announced by Johnson in Parliament on Monday still has a few gaps that need to be filled in, including when international traveling will be resumed, a key element for British economic engines such as tourism and the airlines sector.

The British government will continue weighing measures to mitigate the risk of importing dangerous coronavirus mutations into the country and will announce a specific strategy on that score on April 12. Non-essential international travel, in any case, will remain curtailed until at least May 17.

Also, it has still not been established what the policy will be regarding social distancing in public places, the obligatory use of facemasks and recommendations on telecommuting.

Likewise up in the air is the idea of providing vaccination and negative Covid test certificates that would help to reopen certain economic sectors, but Johnson said that this is under study although doubts remain regarding certain elements such as privacy and “discrimination” that issuing documents of this kind could create.

Johnson also told lawmakers that the end of assorted lockdown and health restrictions is in sight and Britons can look forward to a very different spring and summer that will be much better than the scenario that currently prevails.

The United Kingdom has administered almost 18 million doses of the various anti-Covid vaccines and by April 15 the government expects to have provided the vaccine to all adults over age 50 and by the end of July to all adults regardless of age.

In his remarks before the House of Commons, Johnson said that the data available so far indicates the benefits of the strategy of delaying the second preventive vaccination in the case of both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines to limit the impact of the pandemic on the health care system and increase the number of people with immunity as soon as possible.

A report published Monday by the English Public Health System (PHE) calculates that the first dose of the Pfizer drug reduces hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 by more than 75 percent among people over age 80.

Another study, by the Scottish health system, determined that four weeks after receiving the first dose of AstraZeneca’s two-dose series the risk of hospitalization is reduced by 94 percent, while the risk declines by 85 percent between 28 and 34 days after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

The medical advisor to the government of England, Chris Whitty, said that the figures “support” the government’s strategy.

Despite the current effectiveness of the two vaccines, Johnson said that there is no way that the UK or the world can get to “zero” Covid cases.

Immunization is never 100 percent effective, there will always be people who will decide not to get the vaccine and the virus will mutate in the future, thus leading to periodic resurgences of the virus as restrictions are lifted, which could be between “six and nine” months,” Johnson said.

But nevertheless, he said that Britain cannot go on indefinitely with restrictions that weaken the economy, the physical and mental wellbeing of Britons and significant opportunities for British children.

The easing of restrictions will be undertaken all across the British Isles – with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland following their own roadmaps for doing so – but Johnson did not rule out that at some point local restrictions might be reimposed to halt the spread of a newly detected variant of the virus.

The relaxation of restrictions will be handled in four phases five weeks apart, a period that will enable the authorities to analyze the data on the evolution of the pandemic and advise the affected sectors at least a week before the next move is to be made.

Moreso than on the number of daily infections, the authorities will base decisions on moving from one phase of the program to the next on the impact of Covid-19 on the health system and the number of fatalities.

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