In England, concerns grow about a ‘notable gender split’ in Delta infections

July 19, 2021, 2:44 PM UTC

For the English, today marks a kind of Independence Day over COVID-19 as monthslong lockdown restrictions are eased across the country. And yet to see how the outbreak continues to divide the nation, look no further than Twitter. Hashtags like “Freedom Day,” “Plague Island,” and “The Purge” have been trending throughout the day.

Why such mixed emotions?

The country holds the bragging rights of one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. It also has one of the highest numbers of active COVID-19 cases in the world—and the latest wave is hitting the young and males particularly hard.

In the last week of June, men made up 55% of the COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom, according to the country’s Office of National Statistics. The week before, males made up 70% of all COVID-19 deaths.

Cases have also been considerably growing in males ages 15 to 40 over the past few weeks—the first time there’s been “a notable gender split” in the disease, Deutsche Bank analysts said in a research note to investors on Monday morning. The investment bank put in words the big fear that Europe may be glimpsing a kind of soccer-led spike in cases a week after the Euro Cup final match, pitting England against Italy. The gender split, Deutsche Bank analysts wrote, “strongly hints at the impact of millions of football fans watching the Euro football final.”

The spiking case load is also putting investors in a risk-off mood, with London’s FTSE down 2.3% on Monday afternoon.

“The FTSE 100 selloff has accelerated as strong undercurrents of COVID uncertainty wash through the financial markets,” writes Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Far from giving investors a jolt of confidence, Freedom Day has seen it evaporate, as sharply rising infection rates disrupt businesses across the U.K.”

New epicenter

The big culprit is the Delta variant, which has become the dominant strain in not just the U.K., but globally. Britain has becomes a new epicenter for the disease, recording 54,600 daily new cases on Saturday.

So far, that hasn’t slowed down the Boris Johnson government’s Freedom Day reopening plan.

From today onward, English immune systems will be further tested as the U.K. opens nightclubs, ends lawful requirements for face coverings, and drops all limits on the number of people who can hang out indoors.

The masks may be dropping, but the government’s far-reaching test-and-trace program, which requires people to self-isolate when they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, will remain in place.

The program has been in the spotlight lately as U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who was fully inoculated, tested positive for COVID-19, setting off a chain reaction in the highest circles of power. On Sunday, Prime Mister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak confirmed they would self-isolate for 10 days, as is required, after being “pinged” by the National Health Service (NHS) COVID tracing app.

The number of people who are in self-isolation—colloquially called the “Pingdemic”—has caused massive disruptions in England as 1.73 million people are currently isolating after getting pinged, according to the Adam Smith Institute. The service has left public transport and other companies like supermarket Iceland and pub chain Greene King with staff shortages. This figure could rise to 5.2 million people by mid-August, the research group said.

Rising cases

Despite the U.K. having one of the most successful vaccination campaigns, with 64% of its adult population jabbed with both doses and a whopping 86% jabbed with one, the Delta strain, which originated in India, can spread quicker than its predecessors, leaving even partially vaccinated youths significantly less protected. Additionally, less effective jabs such as the AstraZeneca shot may also uncover some chinks in the armor—with Sajid Javid branding the vaccine in his arm when he tested positive.

At the time of the rules-relaxing announcement, Johnson noted, “We always did say there would be a third wave.” He added, “We must sadly reconcile ourselves to more deaths.”

There has been a lot of pushback on the rules-easing. More than 1,200 scientists backed a letter in the journal The Lancet saying that the U.K.’s plan to lift most coronavirus restrictions in England on July 19 is an “unethical experiment” that poses a serious threat to the rest of the world.

Other critics have noted that the move to lift the restrictions is like building a new “variant factory” at a fast rate, calling the attitude of the new Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid “frightening.”

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt, the chairman of the Commons health select committee and former health secretary told the BBC that the situation facing the NHS was “very serious,” and that there was a danger England may need to go back into another lockdown in the autumn if hospitalization rates continued to increase during the summer.

Any further setback would strain an already fragile recovery. The hospitality sector, namely bars and clubs, has been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, with consumer spending still remaining 70% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the U.K.’s ONS.

Meanwhile, there’s little talk of plagues or pings for England’s clubbers. They rang in Freedom Day in style.

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