Virtually all pandemic restrictions were lifted in England on Monday, but ‘Freedom Day’ has sparked deep concern from scientists as coronavirus cases escalate across the country – and around the world.
Fueled by the more infectious Delta variant, cases are increasing in Asia-Pacific, parts of Africa and Europe, and even the heavily vaccinated United States.
The number of daily infections has also increased in Britain, topping 50,000.
But despite warnings and accusations of recklessness, restrictions on daily living have been lifted in England, with no social distancing and mask requirements.
Sports stadiums, cinemas, theaters and nightclubs were allowed to operate at full capacity from 23:00 GMT on Sunday.
âI was thinking, well, we missed New Years, so why not go out and celebrate? Said Nicola Webster Calliste, 29, outside a nightclub in Leeds, northern England.
“It’s like a new chapter.”
Covid-19 travel rules and self-isolation for close contacts remain in place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who is self-isolating after his health minister was infected – defended the move, dubbed “freedom day” by some media, but urged people to be cautious.
The government has said that with a rapid vaccination program, the risks to the health system are manageable.
But his declared approach to lifting the brakes before any winter outbreak of respiratory disease has been marked by “moral vacuum and epidemiological stupidity,” said Gabriel Scally, a public health expert at the University of Bristol.
Scotland and Wales, whose decentralized governments set their own health policies, have said they will maintain the mask mandate among other restrictions.
European countries, including Spain and Greece, have recently been forced to reimpose restrictions to tackle new epidemics.
– Blockages in Asia –
The coronavirus is known to have killed more than four million people since it emerged at the end of 2019, but, for some countries in Asia-Pacific, the worst is still ahead of them.
Indonesia has overtaken India and Brazil as a global Covid-19 hotspot in recent days, with its daily death toll reaching a record 1,205 on Friday.
There are fears that people traveling for the Eid festivities will spread the virus further, and authorities in the vast Muslim-majority country stepped up roadblocks on Monday for the start of the holiday.
Vietnam’s capital Hanoi was placed under partial lockdown on Monday as millions more in the south of the country were ordered to stay at home, a day after the country recorded its highest number of daily cases .
Although Australia has seen a much lower number of cases than most countries, it is also struggling with epidemics in its two largest cities.
Melbourne extended the lockdown on Monday, which means around 12 million Australians will remain under some form of stay-at-home order.
In Myanmar, where hospitals are empty due to a long strike against the military junta, volunteers are going door to door to collect bodies for burials.
“We run our service without resting,” Than Than Soe told AFP in the busy office of his group of volunteers.
– American push –
Concerns have also increased in the United States, where despite a majority of the adult population receiving at least one injection and months of declining spread, cases of Covid-19 have soared 135% in the past two weeks.
Los Angeles, which has seen a sharp increase, renewed its mandate as a mask, and the U.S. surgeon general warned on Sunday that other regions may have to do the same.
At Revolver nightclub in West Hollywood, clubbers were warned in the queue: no mask, no entry.
This frustrated those fully vaccinated at the site, who said they shouldn’t have to suffer because of those refusing to be vaccinated.
âWhy should we take responsibility for individuals who do not want to protect their own bodies? Said Anthony Bawn, a 36-year-old screenwriter.
“If they make me (wear a mask), I’ll go home.”
Under the dark global cloud, Japan is preparing for the opening of the virus-delayed 2020 Olympics on Friday in Tokyo.
Widely fought by the Japanese public because of the pandemic, the Olympics will take place mainly without spectators.
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Â© 2021 AFP