Failing the test: why England’s lockdown is not being lifted
The spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus has meant at least one of the tests set by the Government to lift England’s restrictions has not been met and restrictions cannot be lifted on June 21.
But what are the tests and where has it gone wrong?
– Test one: The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
A big tick for the Government and NHS on this one. The Government is setting more ambitious targets for the programme, with an aim to offer everyone aged over 18 in England a first jab by July 19, sooner than the original goal of the end of that month.
By July 19, which is the next date earmarked for the lifting of England’s remaining restrictions, officials hope around two thirds of all adults will have been offered both doses of vaccine.
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– Test two: Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
Again, officials judge this test has been met. Analysis by Public Health England suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalisation after two doses, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective after a second jab.
– Test three: Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospital admissions, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
This is where things start to get tricky for the Government. Officials acknowledge there is a huge amount of uncertainty on this issue.
Modelling suggests that had the easing of lockdown not been delayed, hospital admissions could have reached the heights of the first peak in March 2020.
– Test four: Our assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.
This is the main reason why the Prime Minister felt he could not proceed with the June 21 reopening.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, is believed to be between 40% and 80% more transmissible than the Alpha strain.
There are around 8,000 new cases a day, the highest since February.
The Prime Minister said: “We’re seeing cases growing by about 64% per week, and in the worst affected areas, it’s doubling every week.”
Unvaccinated people have twice the risk of hospital admission with the Delta variant as the Alpha variant, while among those who are vaccinated 12 people in every 100 may end up in hospital with Delta compared with eight for Alpha.