Yikes: Boris Johnson postpones UK's "Freedom Day" by a month due to spread of Indian variant

I can’t say this is the right decision but it’s a gutsy one, particularly for a Tory government. The UK brought down the hammer on COVID through a combination of mass vaccination and grinding months-long restrictions on socializing. They’ve immunized a higher percentage of their population than we have and have tolerated sustained top-down distancing mandates longer than Americans (or at least Republicans) could. Their reward was “Freedom Day,” June 21, the date when the UK government projected that transmission would be low enough across the country that most remaining mandates could be lifted.

Then B.1.617, the Indian/Delta variant, got going and the whole scheme came crashing down.

Imagine having to tell 66 million people that something called Freedom Day is canceled.

Hospitalizations are rising more slowly, up 15 percent week over week, but that’s to be expected since it takes time for new infections to develop into cases severe enough to require ER care. “In a month you’ll be up to 100,000 new cases a day,” said one British professor to the Mirror about the wave of Delta infections. “If the Government takes a gamble and lets rip like Tory backbenchers want, the NHS will be overloaded. Let’s wait. Let’s stay as we are.” One hundred thousand cases a day in the UK would be the equivalent per capita of 500,000 in the U.S., nearly double what we were seeing during our worst stretch of the winter wave.

Amazingly, the British public apparently supports the decision to postpone reopening. The Mirror cites one recent poll that found 54 percent in favor of delaying Freedom Day versus just 37 percent opposed. I wonder if even a Democratic state like California would draw numbers like that if Gavin Newsom turned around tomorrow and pulled the rug out from underneath them on reopening.

Want to know the craziest part? At the moment the UK is averaging seven daily deaths from COVID. Not seven hundred. Seven. Around one per nine million people. That’s tantamount to 35 daily deaths in the United States, a level we’ve never approached since COVID’s arrival last March. Johnson postponing Freedom Day under those circumstances is a demonstration of deep devotion to one of the lessons of the pandemic: If you want to hold down cases, you need to order restrictions *before* there’s a huge surge. By the time a wave is visible in the data it’s too late to stop the flood.

We’re not going to see any new state mandates here in the U.S. unless and until things get horribly bad, in which case we’ll have once again failed to learn the lesson that Johnson has, but as public awareness of the Indian variant grows it’s a cinch that most businesses will extend mask-wearing on their premises for awhile longer as a precaution. Virologist Angela Rasmussen is worried enough about B.1.617 that she’s taken to urging people who got Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine to consider a booster now. Why? Because, as some people abroad have learned the hard way, even Pfizer and Moderna aren’t very effective against the Indian variant after a single dose. It takes two doses for solid protection, which means J&J recipients may be at higher risk of infection now that B.1.617 is more common. And at higher risk of transmitting the virus to others too, which will further fuel community spread:

In other words, people who got J&J may be fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 v1.0 but only partly vaccinated against v2.0. They need a software upgrade to defend against the new virus. A dose of Pfizer or Moderna might do it. If it’s going to happen, though, the feds should be thinking about it and making an announcement ASAP, knowing how it’ll take a few weeks for protection from the second dose to kick in. The variant will only become more prevalent day by day as they wait.

I don’t envy Biden the task of having to tell people who sought out J&J specifically because it’s a one-dose shot that their regiment unfortunately will require two doses after all. The Brits may keep a stiff upper lip about having Freedom Day postponed but complaining is more our style.

Here’s the leader of the opposition, Labour’s Keir Starmer, making some familiar points about lax border controls letting the virus in.