A passenger plane on its way to Heathrow flies over the rooftops of Hounslow, London, under an international flight path.
It is one of Britain’s hot spots for the rapidly spreading COVID-19 variant known as the delta variant, or B.1.617.2, which was first found in India and is believed to have arrived in the UK via an air passenger.
The variant is now considered to be the dominant strain in England and to combat it, communities where the virus has had outbreaks have launched mass testing for coronavirus and stepped up vaccination campaigns.
“We were very busy, early in the morning at 8 am we had more than 250 people in line,” said Darshan Singh.
He is a volunteer at a temporary vaccination clinic set up at Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, a Sikh temple where anyone can come for a shot without an appointment.
“People are becoming more aware, and there’s a lot of media coverage. People are worried, and they just came in,” Singh said.
In recent days, the number of new COVID-19 infections in the UK has crossed 5,000, a number not seen since March. Cases of the variant rose by 5,472 to 12,431 in the past week, according to Public Health England.
In Lake, a town in northern England, nearly 1,000 students and staff are self-isolating after outbreaks at two schools and a college.
People who live in areas with increased incidence of the variable are advised to socialize outdoors and to limit travel if possible, although there are no restrictions on movement per se.
Is the UK at the start of another pandemic wave?
“The [variant] It also has these characteristics that may enable it to get from one person to another faster, which is why we are all concerned,” said Ravi Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge.
He says the UK is in the early stages of a third wave and the government needs to delay its next phase of reopening, scheduled for June 21 in England.
England is currently in the third phase of reopening, which allows outdoor and indoor dining, theaters and cinemas to open outside gatherings in large groups and indoors in small groups.
The fourth stage will see the end of all restrictions on social media and the return of nightclubs, big events and big weddings. The government says it will use tests and other measures to reduce the risk of infection, but has not yet made clear what exactly it will be.
Concerns led to a partial reversal of international travel from England. In May, residents were allowed to travel to 12 countries without having to quarantine upon return. There were hopes that more countries would be added to the list; Instead, Portugal was removed from it on Thursday.
How effective are vaccines?
A recent study from Public Health England found that vaccines are effective against the delta variant after two doses; And 50 per cent of UK adults have now received both.
Half of the UK adult population is now fully vaccinated. It’s an amazing achievement, thanks to all of you coming.
Now let’s get the work done. When it’s your turn, get a jab. pic.twitter.com/R1fgZ1FN5q
says Gupta, who is part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advises the government
Gupta predicts that this wave will probably not be as dangerous as the previous one, which was caused by the alpha variable, or B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK in November 2020.
“But the problem, in our health system, is that morale is really low. People are stressed, and even if it was a quarter of what it was before, that would still be too much.”
But not all scholars agree that the government should change course now.
Sir John Bell is an immunologist and professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and an advisor to government.
“I think we need to have some balance in the discussion and keep an eye on the serious disease we are trying to prevent,” Bell said in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
He says it’s more important to keep an eye on hospital admissions and death numbers than the number of cases.
Hospitalization has seen a slight uptick, but for the first time since the pandemic, the UK has had a day this week without deaths.
“If we rush down a rabbit hole every time we see a new species, we’re going to go a long time away,” Bell told the BBC.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during an interview at 10 Downing Street that he “doesn’t see anything in the data at the moment which means we can’t go ahead with Step 4 of opening up.”
Johnson said public health officials always knew there would be an increase in infection rates after the first three steps out of lockdown. He said government scientists are looking at models to determine how effective vaccines are against the delta variant but for now, “the data is still ambiguous.”
The government is not fast enough to respond
“They have a history of delaying decisions,” said frustrated Steve Curran, a consultant in Hounslow.
He says the government is to blame for the variable takeoff, as they did not shut down flights from India soon enough.
“They actually put Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list, and they should have done the same for India at the time,” he said, referring to the two-week delay in banning flights from India.
He says hearing these booms has been difficult not only because of the lack of communication from senior government officials but also because people are ready to go on with their lives.
He said of their ability to suppress this alternative: “Everyone wants to go out. They want to go on vacation, enjoy themselves, but we have to be careful. I’m optimistic.”
A similar feeling can be heard among people who receive the vaccine in Hounslow. Jane Akenhead, a local resident, says that despite the news, she’s more positive about the future than at any other time in the pandemic.
But, she says, if there is any chance of local restrictions being imposed in outbreak areas or a return to any pattern of lockdown, the government will face a challenge.
“I don’t even know [if] “People will stick with it if they come back now,” she said. “I think people are over it now.”
Watch | How are certain communities in the UK coping with the boom in new variables