London. On November 27, Omikron arrived – both in the UK and in Germany. But that’s where the similarities between the two countries in dealing with the highly contagious virus variant end. In the UK, Omicron found a society with almost no restrictions and spread like wildfire. Prime Minister Boris Johnson largely allowed this and declared the booster vaccinations to be the top national mission under the slogan “Get Boosted Now”. Even a slight tightening of his corona policy – more masks indoors and vaccination certificates for clubs and major events – triggered a rebellion of unprecedented proportions in the ranks of his Tory party. Since the days before Christmas, the English corona strategy can therefore be outlined as follows: close your eyes, boost – and play Russian roulette with the virus. Full ranks and no masks at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on January 9, while highs of over 200,000 new infections per day were reported a few days earlier. © Source: imago images/Action Plus
2G+ in Germany vs. Celebrations and football in England
In Germany, the time of waiting and warning began: Omikron was there, but not really there by a long shot – also because of the thin data situation over the holidays. For weeks, people looked anxiously at the omicron share in the number of infections, made 3G first 2G and then even 2G+, while football continued to be played and celebrated in the parallel universe England – whether vaccinated or not. Internationally, many observers agreed: a catastrophe with an announcement. But now, a few weeks later, the situation is more complicated. It has now been proven that Omikron makes people less often seriously ill – however, the sheer mass of infected people means that a number of patients come to the hospital. Nobody in England is calling for tightening anymore, according to the experts’ models it’s too late for that. Instead, the question is: Was gambling with the virus worth it? Will the British be spared the great catastrophe, even though there were hardly any restrictions?
Optimism in London – emergency in hospitals
This assumption seems to be gaining ground in political London, especially since the death toll of around 300 per day is well below that of last winter. In a BBC interview this week, British Minister Michael Gove retrospectively declared his advocacy of tougher measures to be a mistake and said of Johnson’s controversial course: “His assessment has come true.” On the other hand, news from the health system comes out every day that sounds worrying. According to the Guardian, 24 hospitals have declared an emergency since the New Year. This means that they feel they cannot continue to operate as usual. The military is deployed to plug the gaps. Thousands of emergency patients have to wait hours for treatment. In the north of the country, heart attack patients were asked to call a taxi to the hospital themselves. The National Health Service (NHS) has contracted with private providers to use their capacity.
Lack of health workers as the main problem
In addition, mini emergency hospitals are being set up again in gymnasiums or training centers in order to be able to accommodate patients in 4,000 extra beds if necessary. However, the main problem is currently not the lack of space, but the lack of medical staff – because so many are absent at the same time because of Omikron. As of January 9, NHS England was missing more than 40,000 workers related to Covid-19 – more than triple the number at the start of December. “The NHS is not overwhelmed, but it’s definitely under a lot of strain,” said Imperial College London doctor Azeem Majeed. But he also concedes that the burden is not as severe as it was a year ago, when the alpha wave rolled over the country.
Corona numbers are falling – reason for hope?
After one in ten people in London was temporarily infected, Omicron seems to be running out of strength. The fact that the curve of new infections and hospital admissions has been falling for a few days gives reason to hope that the worst could soon be over. Majeed assumes that the number of cases will remain at a high level for a long time to come – and warns against lifting the few existing measures too early. Legally, however, these expire on January 26th. Johnson, who is under pressure over Downing Street lockdown parties, is unlikely to even attempt to extend it again. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales decide independently on their corona measures – and take a much more cautious course. Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford recently accused Johnson of failing to protect English citizens from Covid. Corona expert Christina Pagel fears that the current combination of new variants, dwindling vaccination protection and hardly any countermeasures will condemn England to “massive waves of infection once or twice a year”, as she recently wrote on Twitter. This will increasingly weaken the health service and repeatedly cause severe disruption in public life. This is also not a working strategy for dealing with further crises – such as further pandemics or the climate crisis. “We are moving backwards,” is the verdict of the scientist.
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