Concerns remain after lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in England

To what degree will restrictions on the activities of people in Japan be lifted when the COVID-19 vaccination rollout has progressed to a certain extent? Attention must be paid to the situation in the United Kingdom, one of the first places to widely lift restrictions.

The U.K. government has lifted almost all restrictions related to controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus in London and throughout England. The previous requirements to maintain a distance of at least one meter between people and restrictions on the number of people allowed into stores and for events have been removed, and nightclubs are now allowed to operate.

Since last year, the U.K. has intermittently imposed strict regulations through lockdowns. In January this year, a lockdown was again imposed, but it was gradually eased in March, allowing the resumption of activities, such as in-person classes at schools. The latest move is seen as the final step toward “normalization.”

The wearing of masks on public transportation had been mandatory, but will now be recommended only. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to leave infection measures to the judgment of each person is a controversial one.

Johnson argued that the prolonged restrictions have a negative impact on people’s lives and health, and stressed that now is the best time to move toward normalizing the situation.

It is an understandable decision, with a view that simply restraining people’s lives will lead to an exhausted economy and increase social dissatisfaction. The idea may be to ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, when people feel more relaxed, and to ready for a surge in infections in the autumn and beyond.

What pushed the bold move was the high vaccination rate. The rate of those who have received two shots has reached half of the total population and two-thirds of adults. The U.K. government said it plans to make vaccination available to all adults who wish to receive it by mid-September.

The U.K. government is also considering a third round of vaccination for those who are thought to be prone to serious illness.

This may reflect the U.K. placing importance on the effectiveness of the vaccine in controlling the number of people who die or become seriously ill.

The number of people newly infected in the U.K. is rapidly increasing, however, with some days exceeding 50,000 cases. Concern remains that the lifting of restrictions may have been premature.

In Israel, where the vaccination rate is similarly high, the requirement to wear masks indoors was lifted in June, only to be reinstated when the infection spread again. A similar situation is occurring in the United States in Los Angeles.

The U.K. government will have to be more vigilant than ever about the infection situation.

Regarding the lifting of restrictions, Johnson said, “We must reconcile ourselves sadly to more deaths from COVID.” How to balance efforts to reduce the number of deaths and efforts to normalize daily life is a challenge common among all countries.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 20, 2021.