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Why Are UK Covid Infection Rates So High Compared To The Rest Of Western Europe?

  • October 19, 2021

1. Fewer people are wearing masks in England

Masks are not obligatory in indoor spaces in England, although they are still mandatory in some circumstances in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Face coverings do reduce Covid transmissions significantly but Downing Street stopped them from being mandatory from July 19 – on Freedom Day – aside from in healthcare settings and care homes.

It’s a very different picture across the rest of Europe as masks remain in place in most indoor places.

Public health expert in Spain Alex Arenas told i newspaper: “Without a doubt, the combination of wearing masks and the fast vaccination programme has brought the coronavirus contagion rate down in Spain.”

2. Increased rate of indoor mixing

Mask-wearing is not solely responsible for impacting the Covid infection rate, though.

In Scotland the Covid infection rate is still quite high. ONS estimates 1 in 80 people there have Covid compared to 1 in 60 in England, despite having much stricter instructions around wearing the face coverings.

Both countries have seen a similar level of indoor mixing between large groups, which has in turn led to increasing infection rates.

3. Britain started vaccinating earlier

The UK stunned the world with its speedy vaccine rollout at the beginning of December 2020, beating many of its European neighbours who struggled to negotiate with vaccine companies as part of the EU.

However, this speediness could come back to hurt the British population as it means people will need booster jabs sooner rather than later – just as winter is approaching and people are more vulnerable.

After five months, Covid vaccine protection starts to drop off.

According to the Financial Times’ journalist John Burn-Murdoch around 75% of older people are five months’ after their second dose, making them more vulnerable to infection.

Pfizer is also known to provide more long-lasting protection for its recipients. The UK used Astra-Zeneca more widely than other European nations towards the start of the vaccine rollout, as many in the EU were concerned about potential blood clots.

4. The vaccine rollout has become sluggish

More than 49 million people in the UK – meaning almost nine in 10 people aged 12 and above – have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

But the vaccine dose rate has dropped far below the 500,000 daily doses administered each day back in mid-March. Vaccinations have levelled off in every age group aside from 16 and 17 year olds.

Children were vaccinated relatively late in the UK compared to the those in many European nations. While healthy children are not necessarily at high risk from Covid, they can pass it to more vulnerable groups.

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