Europe follows UK in plotting roadmaps out of lockdown

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A man talks with a staff member at an NHS COVID-19 vaccination center in London, Britain, on March 4, 2021. Future vaccines that have been tweaked to deal with new coronavirus variants will be fast-tracked for authorization, Britain's medicines and health care regulator announced Thursday. (Xinhua/Han Yan)

It’s been a long lockdown for the UK and for four months hospitals have been battered by a long, aggressive wave of the pandemic.

For many the numbers appear to have been stubbornly slow in their retreat from the peak, but millions of Britons live in areas without a single coronavirus fatality during April.

The Office for National Statistics reported a drop in infections of 40 percent in the last week in England. Thus far, the vaccine program has been a success and in the middle of May restrictions should start to fall away in earnest.

In Liverpool on Friday and Saturday, 3,000 partygoers gathered in an airy makeshift nightclub to allow scientists to assess the impact and risks of large gatherings. Airflow and air quality are being measured and all participants were tested before and after.

It’s a monitored scientific experiment, but one in which the subjects were thrilled to take part. “We’re just excited, all of us are excited,” said one called Josh.

“We’re all on the verge of tears ready to go in. Honestly, we’re not even drunk yet, we’re ready for it.”

“I have literally spent three weeks preparing this outfit,” said another, Ellen. “So long deciding what to drink, what to wear… big-ups Liverpool for having the first non-socially distanced event in the country. We love this city.”

The lockdown in France has also taken its toll on the public spirit and President Macron has now announced his four-stage lifting process. On May 19 cafes and restaurants will be able to start serving customers outside and the nationwide curfew should also be lifted. By the beginning of June foreign travelers will be accepted again.

But this is much earlier in the coronavirus curve than the UK’s strategy. Intensive care units in France are still busy while those in the UK have for the most part fallen quiet.

Europe has, after some delay, kickstarted its vaccination program, and the signs are that it is picking up well. However, there are still those who accuse Macron of moving too quickly.

Those critics include Philippe Juvin, the right-wing mayor of Parisian suburb La Garenne Colombes, who also happens to be head of emergencies at a Paris hospital.

“We will ease lockdown with worse figures than when we implemented the lockdown,” he points out. “We have to understand that the situation today is not good. We had 4,200 patients in intensive care when we locked down a month and a half ago, and now we’re at almost 6,000.”

In the UK the scientific advice is still stacked against complacency. In France it is likely to be the same.

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