The Canadian press
On May 3rd, the UK government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.
It was a sharp turnaround in just over three months, from the worst death toll in the pandemic to almost none.
« Britain is showing the best way for Canada, » said Dr. Fahad Razak, internist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
According to Razak, it’s about getting more vaccines up and running and maintaining smart public health measures for as long as possible so the vaccines can do their thing.
January saw record numbers of new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and intensive care units in the UK. They were three to five times as bad as Canada.
More than 68,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 on January 8, and more than 1,820 people died on January 20. That month, there were more than 39,000 people in hospital and more than 4,000 in intensive care on the worst day.
Now, with half the UK population on a single dose of vaccine, a quarter two, and the whole country under strict lockdown with a gradual, staged reopening, Britain’s picture is not only better, it’s a whole new world / p>
Each of these statistics failed. New cases? 96 percent less. Deaths? 99 percent less. Hospital stays and intensive care patients? 97 percent decrease.
« This is the remarkable effect of getting these vaccines into people’s arms and effective and wise restrictions on public health interventions, » said Razak. « That’s the effect, you’re seeing it right now. »
The UK, like Canada, is one of the few countries in the world to delay the second dose by several months so that more people can be protected from at least one dose faster.
In both countries it was an experiment with many critics. With a pandemic afoot and clinical trials needing to be completed quickly, vaccine manufacturers had generally tested their products with three and four week delays between doses.
Since B.1.1.7 increases the infection level in the crisis and is laden with vaccines that say that delaying a second dose often elicits a stronger immune response, the UK has decided to increase the second dose to 12 weeks.
Canada decided in March to postpone the second dose for up to 16 weeks for most people due to production issues delaying delivery and doses being scarce.
« We will see the benefit of continuing our aggressive vaccine rollout, » he said.
The UK, which was under strict nationwide lockdown in January and February, is gradually returning to normal. The children are back in school, the hairdressing salons are open, the restaurant terraces are hopping and even small gatherings in the backyard are allowed.
All of this was done in calculated steps, with the restrictions being gradually lifted every few weeks from the beginning of March.
Next week, May 17th, one of the biggest steps forward will come: restaurants are allowed to dine indoors and up to 6 friends and family members from two households can be entertained indoors. Outdoor gatherings are increased to a maximum of 30 people. Children’s playgrounds, cinemas, hotels and indoor fitness courses are again allowed.
The UK government hopes to lift all restrictions on June 21st.
You can do that, Razak said, because more people are vaccinated and therefore fewer people are available to infect the virus.
The UK had quickly gotten out of hand with vaccines, made smart deals to get early doses from Pfizer, invested heavily in Oxford-AstraZeneca early on, and expanded production to make some of it at home.
In January, it even outperformed the United States for vaccinations, trailing Israel and the United Arab Emirates only in per-person doses.
However, the UK is not without supply problems. Vaccinations slowed significantly in April as AstraZeneca couldn’t get all shipments to the UK and Moderna cut UK shipments along with Canada.
Canada, whose vaccine shipments are expected to be higher in May than the last five months combined, is catching up. It outperformed the UK for much of April and expects to have a first dose for anyone over the age of 12 by the end of June.
Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s National COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said the sharp downward curve in UK COVID-19 statistics can occur here.
« I would not be surprised and very relieved if we actually saw a fairly significant increase (in) in the decline in the number of cases once we got about 40% of the first doses that we were heading to quickly, » said Naylor.
On Friday, Canada hit 14 million people vaccinated with at least one dose, more than 37 percent of all Canadians. At current vaccination rates, Canada should reach 40 percent by the middle of the week.
With vaccines coming in faster now, the 50 percent marker should come before Victoria Day.
« When we get around 50% we should see a lot more light at the end of the tunnel, » said Naylor. « I just hope there is no premature opening at this point because that could set us back. »
Razak said there is no magic formula for when and how to lift restrictions, but he said that the data must dictate that. If it goes too fast, before enough people have been vaccinated and the virus has limited places, a fourth wave is very likely.
Naylor said if things are done right there is no reason Canada cannot be where Britain is now in the not too distant future.
« We are able here to really pursue this virus with this flood of effective vaccines and free ourselves from the limbo and regain our lives, » he said.
People are sitting at tables in the open area of Covent Garden Market in London, Thursday April 15, 2021. (AP Photo / Alberto Pezzali)
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Full coverage at CTVNews.ca/Coronavirus
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