The battle between vaccines and the coronavirus Delta variant is nearing its climax in the UK and the rest of the world is watching closely. What is at stake is whether advanced economies with a high degree of vaccination can enjoy something that approximates pre-pandemic life in the light of rapidly spreading strains of the virus.
The experiment should give a strong indication whether Covid-19 can be degraded to the status of a manageable seasonal hazard such as flu and whether lockdowns and social distance from the past can be avoided.
In England almost all restrictions from the Covid era were lifted on Monday. Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that he wants Brits to decide for themselves whether they wear a mask, dance in a nightclub or skip a big meeting.
The shift comes even as the number of cases increases rapidly – the UK registers nearly 50,000 cases per day, more than reported in Brazil, India, Indonesia or South Africa. The government justifies its actions by pointing out hospital admissions and mortality rates that are much lower than in previous waves of the epidemic.
The strategy is to put the UK at odds with its European neighbours, parts of the United States and other high-coverage countries, such as Israel, where the launch of the vaccine, hand-in-hand with the strengthening of a number of public health measures such as wearing masks and social distance to prevent the spread of the Indian strain.