‘Freedom day’ in England raises concerns in rest of the world

The U.K.government moved ahead with its plans to scrap COVID-19 restrictions in England on Monday, even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and finance chief Rishi Sunak were forced into quarantine after health minister Sajid Javid fell ill with the coronavirus disease.

  • Theaters, cinemas and night clubs can now operate at full capacity without any limits, and legal obligations to wear masks in public spaces such as transport have been removed. Some mayors are still making masks compulsory in their local transit systems.

  • The delta variant keeps spreading in the country, and the number of people who tested positive for the virus in the last seven days jumped to nearly 317,000, up 43% over the previous week according to official numbers.

  • 53% of the U.K.’s total population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with more than 68% having received at least one dose of one of the approved vaccines.

  • Scientists and public health experts both in the U.K. and abroad have raised concerns that “freedom day” could result in a large number of hospitalizations and deaths, and favor the emergence of new vaccine-resistant variants of the virus.

The outlook: What the journal Nature has called “an unprecedented public-health experiment” could backfire if Monday’s decision leads to a repeat of the 2020 scenario, when a fast-spreading summer wave of the pandemic led to repeated lockdowns a few months later.