After extended pandemic restrictions throughout the spring, the United Kingdom celebrated its “freedom day” from key COVID rules, when pubs and restaurants could operate at full capacity, clubs could reopen, and masks were no longer legally required in most public settings. But there were several factors dampening the party — foremost being that 39,950 people tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday.
One figure known for his celebrations, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was also unable to partake, as he has been in isolation for two days after coming into contact with Sajid Javid, the vaccinated Health Secretary who tested positive for COVID on Saturday. Johnson, who was nearly placed on a ventilator during his own bout with the virus early in the pandemic, called into a news conference on Monday justifying the decision to stick with the reopening timeline, saying that “if we don’t open up now, then we face a risk of even tougher conditions in the coming months when the virus has a natural advantage.” Johnson seemed to admit that the logic wasn’t perfectly sound, adding, “We have to ask ourselves the question, if not now, when?”
The U.S. State Department had its own answer on Monday to Johnson’s query — something to the effect of “certainly not now.” State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for Americans considering a visit to the U.K. The highest of four cautionary levels, the CDC and State Department urged Americans to get vaccinated if they went ahead with their travel plans.
As the more contagious Delta variant stymies the progress of countries with significant vaccine access, the U.S. and U.K. are facing a similar challenge: The virus is spreading largely among the young and the unvaccinated. According to Britain’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, 60 percent of those being admitted to the hospital with COVID have opted out of a shot. In the United States, where cases are also surging, that number was at 97 percent over the past week.