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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Experts tell Brits to ‘order that turkey’ because infections in summer should keep cases low


Britain should avoid a major surge in Covid infections and Christmas lockdown curbs because of its high caseload on the back of ‘Freedom Day’ this summer, experts claimed today — as a minister said the UK is set to be the first country in the world to beat the pandemic.

Europe is currently battling a fresh wave of the Delta variant that has sent nations scuttling back into draconian shutdowns once more, raising fears that the UK could be next. 

But Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the  UK was in a different position to its continental neighbours because it frontloaded infections earlier in the year.

Former vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi claimed Britain could become the first country in the world to beat the pandemic with jabs. He said it had been right to open up and allow infections to surge over the summer.

Britain was slammed as the ‘sick man of Europe’ throughout this summer and autumn, consistently recording the highest levels of infection on the continent after releasing all Covid curbs on Freedom Day in July. 

But in the face of fierce criticism and calls for tougher restrictions, the Government held its nerve and insisted that it was better to get cases out of the way in the warmer months when the NHS is under less pressure.

Sir John Bell, an Oxford University professor and Government adviser, said that allowing the virus to rip earlier this year ‘has given us longer-term protection’ — as he urged Brits to ‘order that turkey, because it’ll all be fine.’

And SAGE adviser Professor Peter Openshaw said it was likely the UK could avoid Covid curbs. But he still called for infection rates to be brought down because of waning immunity and the un-vaccinated. 

Many experts, however, argue that the epidemic is becoming increasingly unpredictable and Britain’s daily Covid cases have been rising after children returned from half-term at the start of the month. 

Experts highlight that the UK’s booster drive is also outpacing all its European neighbours who are starting to lock down again. 

Some 20 per cent of Brits are triple-jabbed, double the number in Austria — which today went into a full lockdown — and three times that in Germany, where vaccines are to set to become compulsory. 

German authorities have warned that everyone in the country will be either ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ by the end of the winter. 

Britain’s daily Covid cases have been rising after children returned from half-term, but experts say this is unlikely to lead to a major spike. Boris Johnson said last week there was still nothing in the data to suggest the country needed to shift to Plan B, which would bring back face masks, social distancing and work from home guidance.

Britain was seen as the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the summer after its Covid infection rate outpaced other nations. But as the continent heads into winter many other European nations have seen their case rates storm ahead . The UK is testing up to 10 times more than its EU neighbours, which inflates its infection rate

But its booster drive has steamed ahead of others on the continent. More than 20 per cent of Brits have now got a booster, which is almost double the level in Austria and three times that in Germany

The above graph shows the proportion of people fully vaccinated against Covid, who have received two doses, in western Europe. It reveals that the UK has a similar jab uptake to many European nations

The above graph shows the proportion of people fully vaccinated against Covid, who have received two doses, in western Europe. It reveals that the UK has a similar jab uptake to many European nations

The above graph shows Covid hospital admissions per million people in Europe. It reveals that Belgium and the Netherlands are recording a rise, but that they remain flat in the UK. Austria is not included in this graph because no data was available

The above graph shows Covid hospital admissions per million people in Europe. It reveals that Belgium and the Netherlands are recording a rise, but that they remain flat in the UK. Austria is not included in this graph because no data was available

The above graph shows Covid deaths per million people from the virus. It reveals Austria and Belgium are starting to record surges

The above graph shows Covid deaths per million people from the virus. It reveals Austria and Belgium are starting to record surges

Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think we are going to be seeing the sort of surge in cases much of Europe is experiencing.

‘Largely that’s down to… quite a lot of cases throughout the summer and into October, more than most other countries.

Millions of Brits in their forties can book a booster Covid jab from TODAY 

Millions more Britons became eligible for Covid vaccines today as the booster programme started accepting bookings for people in their forties.

An extra 8million people aged 40 to 49 who are double-vaccinated can secure an appointment for their third jab for six months after their second dose.

They can do so via the NHS booking service website, or by calling 119. Data shows the third dose tops-up protection against symptomatic Covid to above 90 per cent.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said vaccination was the best way for the UK to avoid being hit by a wave of infections rolling across Europe.

Teens aged 16 and 17 – who previously were only eligible for one dose – can also now book their second Covid vaccine.

Older teens will be given the second vaccine 12 weeks following their first jab because evidence suggests the longer gap reduces the risk of side effects.

Officials had delayed a decision on second doses while they investigated reports of heart inflammation in young people.

So far, more than half of 16 and 17-year-olds have come forward for a first dose of the jab.

It comes as countries across Europe are being forced to reimpose draconian lockdowns and other social restrictions in response to a fresh wave of the Delta variant.

Britain is thought to be benefitting from the fact it released all curbs much earlier than the rest of the continent over summer, which frontloaded infections.

‘There are a lot of people who would have been at risk who had the infection in the last few months who, if they get it again, they will have it quite mild.

‘Within Europe, we are [also] rolling out the booster faster than any others — although Austria is rapidly catching up with us.’

He added that there was ‘no sign’ the UK would face a bad flu season this year, but warned it could still make a come back in January. 

But the scientist warned infections in children and the AY.4.2 subvariant of Delta could trigger an uptick in cases — but not a major spike.

‘There’s nothing I can see that would generate a potential surge this winter,’ he told MailOnline. 

‘A reasonable proportion of younger children are not jabbed yet, but it might be enough to generate a surge. 

‘The AY.4.2 variant [also] seems to be drifting up, although not that rapidly.’

Mr Zahawi, who is now Education Secretary, said today Britain could be the first country in the world to deploy jabs to beat the pandemic.

He told LBC: ‘Our four-step plan meant that we were able to open up the economy in the summer. Some said it was a mistake — I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. 

‘We will probably, I hope, without being complacent, be the first major economy in the world to demonstrate how you transition from pandemic to endemic using vaccines.’ 

The UK was viewed as the ‘sick man of Europe’ for months after its infection rate outpaced its continental neighbours.

Heading into Autumn Britain’s case load (458.5 cases per million people) was twice that of Austria’s, four times the rate in the Netherlands and Germany, and eight times that in Spain.

And its hospitalisations and deaths also steamed ahead with three times more daily admissions than Germany, and four times the number recorded in the Netherlands. 

But Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland now all have a higher infection rate than the UK, with Germany expected to overtake the country in the coming days.

Austria today imposed a lockdown because of low vaccine uptake, with some German states expected to follow suit in the coming days.

Figures show the UK has a similar vaccine uptake to these nations but it is not recording a surge in cases, suggesting its high caseload in summer has provided an extra layer of protection.

But the difference in fortunes may also be down to the booster drive, with the UK’s outpacing all its European neighbours.

Sir John urged Britons to prepare for Christmas, telling Times Radio: ‘My advice is, order that turkey, because it’ll all be fine. And if you’re planning a skiing holiday in Austria, things may not go so well.’

He said: ‘Back in the dark days of March, April, May 2020, everybody said, “Oh gosh, aren’t the Germans clever, they haven’t got any Covid and aren’t the Brits dumb because they’ve got lots of it?”

‘Actually I don’t think it has quite played out that way. One of the interesting things is that it may well be that the delay in lockdown in the UK, the pretty extensive level of disease, has given us longer-term protection.’

AUSTRIA: The streets in Vienna are empty on Monday morning at the beginning of a nationwide lockdown

AUSTRIA: The streets in Vienna are empty on Monday morning at the beginning of a nationwide lockdown

GERMANY: Traders dismantle figures from their stall at the closed Christmas market in Dresden, Germany, on Monday

GERMANY: Traders dismantle figures from their stall at the closed Christmas market in Dresden, Germany, on Monday

Sir John added that there may well be some truth in the fact that Britain running high levels of infection this summer may now be giving it an advantage compared to its European neighbours.

He continued: ‘They’ve been much more assidious about lockdowns, about keeping away from the virus and then they released.

‘They took their foot off the brake a month, six weeks ago, without a lot of testing in place to know what was going on. And you might argue that the exposure to the virus that we had in the first wave is now paying dividends because we’ve got a lot of people who’ve had natural infection.’

SAGE adviser Professor Peter Openshaw told BBC Breakfast he is pleased that the UK can currently avoid the measures being introduced in Europe.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) member said: ‘The situation appears to have really been destabilised in some parts of Europe because of misinformation, particularly about vaccines. 

‘I think, in the UK, we had a very successful early vaccination campaign and we got very high vaccination rates, particularly amongst those who are vulnerable, but obviously that means that many people have now been vaccinated some time ago and they do need the boosters in order to raise their level of immunity back up again and make sure that, as we go into the winter season and towards Christmas, that we have very high levels of immunity again within society.’

He added: ‘I am concerned that we do have really quite high levels of transmission in the UK. My personal preference would be that we should really try to get these rates down — we know that masks do work… because there are people who are unvaccinated for various reasons, and we do need to try and reduce the level of circulation of the virus, as well as getting up vaccination rates.

‘No single measure by itself is going to be successful; we need the combination of measures, which includes re-vaccination, third doses, but also wearing masks and being very careful not to transmit the virus.’

England dropped virtually all Covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19. Most restrictions have also been relaxed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Professor Chris Whitty backed easing restrictions this summer, warning that sticking with curbs then would likely just delay hospitalisations and deaths rather than prevent them.

It comes as German health minister Jens Spahn warned citizens in the country will be ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ from Covid in just a few months because of the Delta variant. He added: ‘This is why we urgently recommend vaccination.’

Politicians and health ministers in the country are now weighing up whether to follow Austria’s example and make jabs compulsory, with some saying the move is ‘unavoidable’ amid rising infections.

Austrians woke up this morning to a nationwide lockdown with shops, restaurants and festive markets shut amid a fourth wave of the pandemic which is crippling the country’s hospitals and tripling the death rate.

The Government’s decision to return to the strict restrictions and make Covid vaccinations compulsory for everyone from February next year sparked fierce backlash, with tens of thousands taking to the streets of Vienna at the weekend to protest against the measures.

The nationwide lockdown — which had initially applied to the unvaccinated — stops Austria’s 8.9million people from leaving their homes unless for specific reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.

The strict measures, which are set to last for 10 days but could extend to 20, comes as average daily deaths in Austria have tripled in recent weeks and some hospitals have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.

Anger is mounting across Europe over the anti-Covid measures, with violent protests erupting in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and Italy over the weekend. Last night saw 35,000 people descend on the Belgian capital Brussels to protest against new measures banning the unvaccinated from entering restaurants and bars.

The frustration is extending to as far as the Caribbean after France’s island Guadeloupe saw a week of violent protests following an announcement that coronavirus jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare workers.

In response, France has sent elite police and counter-terrorism officers to the French territory to help quell the unrest which saw clashes and looting.

It comes after the French government warned that the fifth wave of coronavirus infections are rising at ‘lightning speed’, with new daily Covid cases close to doubling over the past week.



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