After one of the longest and most stringent lockdowns in the world, Britain began to emerge today from its virus restrictions. The country has made a number of unsuccessful attempts to reopen over the past year, but there is widespread hope that, this time, it may finally be reaching the beginning of the end.
Thousands of gyms, salons, pubs and retail stores reopened their doors, and throngs of people braved the crisp weather and occasional snow flurries to get haircuts, have drinks or dine out with friends.
“None of us have eaten anything that we haven’t prepared ourselves,” said Jeanie Carmichael, who was eating with a group of friends at a Turkish restaurant in London. “Isn’t it wonderful to have it brought to you by a charming young man who will do the dishes for you?”
The near-vertical surge in cases that began in mid-December added urgency to the country’s vaccination campaign, which moved quickly and prioritized giving as many people as possible at least one vaccine dose. So far, about half of the country has been given at least one jab, which has most likely led to a significant drop in cases there, even as a large majority of people under age 50 are still waiting for their vaccine shot.
During the past year, the British economy fell into its worst recession in 300 years. Thousands of pubs, restaurants and retail stores are likely to never reopen. But Britons have amassed a record amount of savings — nearly $250 billion, or about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product — and economists are hopeful that the economy will bounce back to prepandemic levels by the end of the year.
The country is lifting restrictions gradually until June 21, when it hopes to remove almost all restrictions in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following separate but similar timetables.
A Q. & A. on AstraZeneca
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has been deployed against Covid-19 in at least 115 countries, some of them for several months now. But rare blood clots have led some European nations to rethink its use, limiting the vaccine to older people.
As of Sunday, European regulators had received reports of 222 cases of the rare clotting, out of about 34 million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The only group for whom British health officials said the risk of the clotting problems outstripped that of coronavirus-related intensive care admissions was people under age 30 living in a place with low rates of virus cases. Last week, Britain announced that it would offer alternative shots to people under 30.
Benjamin Mueller, who has been following the vaccine and co-wrote a recent piece explaining what we know so far, answered a few of our questions. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
What is going on, scientifically?
Very small numbers of recipients of the vaccines are, for some reason, producing antibodies that target their platelets and cause clots in certain parts of the body.
While these cases are showing up extremely rarely in vaccinated people, German researchers have said they’re appearing slightly more than you would expect among people who have never been vaccinated.
Why do different countries have different policies?
Some Western European countries that have huge supplies of the Pfizer vaccine coming in the next couple of months have made the decision to restrict the use of AstraZeneca. Some Eastern Europe countries that are more reliant on AstraZeneca have not made that choice.
The European countries that have stopped using it in certain age groups have done so because they can afford to. They have other vaccines.
How worried should people be?
Regulators are saying that this appears to be a very rare side effect, but also that, for almost everybody in almost every case, you’re better off getting the shot.
Tens of millions of people have gotten the vaccine in Britain. We’re talking about a few dozen cases of blood clotting. It’s a tragic circumstance for the people who have died in these cases, but regulators are making the case that the vast majority of people are a lot better off with this vaccine than not.
The U.S. is nearing universal Covid-19 vaccine eligibility for adults.
In France, all people over age 55 are eligible to receive the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines starting Monday.
In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Gordon Brown, a former prime minister of Britain, said that vaccination rollouts in lower-income countries were trailing far behind, leading to allegations of a “vaccine apartheid.”
What else we’re following
Russia’s official virus death toll is 102,649. But at least 300,000 more people died last year during the pandemic than were reported in its most widely cited official statistics.
New research estimates that about 40,000 young people in the U.S. have lost parents to the coronavirus, The Boston Herald reports.
A team of Times journalists spent a year tracking every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the U.S. Their reporting shows how the virus devastated the prison system.
Thailand faces its worst virus outbreak as a major travel holiday begins.
Do you fear your teens or tweens had a “lost year”? Experts say they’ll be fine if you model resilience.
A Times editor wrote about her family members’ attempts to get vaccinated across three continents.
A Florida woman who coughed on a shopper’s face at a Pier 1 store last year was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
What you’re doing
I wake up everyday, put on my mom superhero costume, also known as my PJs, to start another day. Several times a day, I change my costume. I become a therapist for my son who suffers from depression. I become a referee for brotherly fights. I become an IT technician because Zoom became the new normal for five of us at once. I cry to myself. The only time I get peace is in the bathroom. The bathroom is now my woman cave. Before Covid really kicked off, I lost my brother, who died of ALS. So I, too, am suffering from depression and sometimes feel broken. I, too, need a superhero. But until one comes, I encourage those around me to be strong and live not in sorrow.
— Denise T., Brooklyn, N.Y.
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