LONDON - The British government has resisted calls for reimposing coronavirus restrictions like mandatory mask-wearing, despite being under pressure from health experts and rising infections.
Britain relies heavily on vaccines in order to prevent the virus from spreading during winter and fall months. Nearly 80% of children aged 12 or over in the U.K. have had two doses of vaccines, and millions more are being offered a booster shot.
Critics say that the booster campaign is not moving as fast as the virus. The U.K. has recorded nearly 50,000 new infections in one day this week. Cases are rising by 16% to more than 44,000 per day, compared with a week ago.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive at the NHS Confederation health care group, stated that Britain's healthcare system is at risk of being overwhelmed unless additional measures are taken to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
He stated that it was time for the government "to enact Plan B" of its strategy immediately because without preemptive actions, we risk falling into a winter crisis."
Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, lifted domestic coronavirus restrictions. This included mandatory face coverings as well as social distancing. People were not advised to work at home and nightclubs and other packed venues were allowed to open at their full capacity.
Scientists feared that there would be a significant increase in coronavirus cases following the reopening. Although that didn't happen, infections remained high and have been on the rise recently, especially among children who are largely unvaccinated.
The Office for National Statistics reported last week that 1 in 60 English people had the virus. This is the highest level of infection in Britain.
Hospitalizations are steadily rising and so are deaths. The average death rate for the last week has been 130 per day. Britain has seen more than 138,000 deaths from coronavirus, which is the second highest number in Europe after Russia.
Some feel that Britons are too quick to go back to pre-pandemic behaviour in this context. Social distancing and masks have almost disappeared in all settings in England, even schools. However, Scotland and other parts the U.K. are more strict. Even in shops where masks are encouraged, or on the London transit network where they are required, compliance is not always easy.
The government dropped a plan to require proof that you have been vaccinated to enter nightclubs and concerts in England. However, a vaccination pass program was introduced by Scotland this month.
Critics claim that the vaccination program, which was among the fastest in the world earlier this year, is too slow. Around 180,000 booster doses are being administered each day. More than half the people who are eligible for a booster dose still haven't received one.
The U.K. waited longer than many European countries to give vaccines to children aged 12-15. Only about 15% of those in the age group have received a shot since becoming eligible last month.
With a new advertising campaign and increased availability of vaccine-ready sites, the government claims it will increase vaccination rates.
On Wednesday, it renewed the call for caution. However, critics claim such calls will be ineffective unless backed up by law.
Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer said that COVID-19 cases are on the rise and winter is coming closer. "Ventilation and masks in cramped indoor spaces are important, as well as hand-washing."
He said, "If you haven't been vaccinated yet, it is now." If you're offered a booster, take it.
Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary, said that the government was closely monitoring the figures but didn't think it was the right time to implement Plan B.
He said, "At the moment we believe that the course we're plotting right now is the right one."