The US has lifted most rules for those who are vaccinated against Covid-19, but a new coronavirus variant is leading Britain & the EU to move with more caution.
The split is particularly stark in Britain, which is facing the spread of a new variant, while America has essentially lifted all rules for people who are vaccinated.
Over Memorial Day weekend, 135,000 people jammed the oval at the Indianapolis 500. Restaurants across the United States were thronged with customers as mask mandates were being discarded.
The formula, which gained the Biden administration’s blessing, was succinct: In essence, if you are fully vaccinated, you can do as you please.
But while the United States appears to be trying to close the curtain on the pandemic, across the ocean, in Britain and the European Union, it is quite a different story.
Despite plunging infection levels and a surging vaccine program, parts of Europe are maintaining limits on gatherings, reimposing curbs on travel and weighing local lockdowns.
In Britain, the spread of a new highly contagious variant first detected in India has scrambled calculations just as the country planned to return to something more like prepandemic life on June 21.
Parts of Britain have decided to extend lockdown restrictions. This past week, the government tightened its travel rules, including for the fully vaccinated, by removing Portugal — the most popular remaining European tourist destination — from the list of places where Britons could fly without stringent quarantines.
And scientists are heatedly debating whether to go ahead with a June 21 reopening, with some saying that the costs of delaying it by a few weeks would pale in comparison to the damage that could be wrought by giving the variant first detected in India, known as Delta, extra opportunities to spread while people are still acquiring immunity.
Though vaccinations got off to a slow start in much of Europe, they have since helped drive down cases, as in the United States. Nevertheless, on the fundamental question of how to approach an end to coronavirus restrictions, America and Europe have diverged.
“We’re now looking at a variant where we have less knowledge about its properties,” Theo Britain has become the world’s most sophisticated laboratory for the virus’s evolution, with 60 percent of England’s coronavirus cases being analyzed through genomic sequencing. That has allowed the country to pick up on the earliest signs of dangerous variants, and made Britain a harbinger of the challenges facing even heavily vaccinated nations as newer versions of the virus reach the unvaccinated.Sanderson, a researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said of Delta. “It just means we have less certainty about what things will look like going forward.” While scientists are at odds over exactly how serious a threat the Delta variant poses to Britain, fears over its potential to undo some of the country’s hard-won progress toward reopening have crescendoed.
“The British are worrying more than any other country,” said Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London. “We seem to be much more receptive to the doomsday scenarios than they are in the U.S.”
Since the Delta variant arrived in Britain in March, it has rapidly outspread other versions of the virus, including the very contagious variant first identified in Britain that contributed to deadly waves around the world this winter. That, in turn, has created localized outbreaks that have nudged Covid cases up.
A top scientific adviser to the British government estimated on Friday that the Delta variant was roughly 60 percent more contagious than the earlier one from Britain. Health officials also warned that cases caused by the Delta variant might lead to a higher risk of hospitalization, though it was too early to say for certain.
The divergent strategies of European nations and the United States also reflect broader differences in how Western governments are thinking about their responsibility to unvaccinated people, scientists said.
Many American states began dramatically scaling back restrictions not long after they made all adults eligible for vaccines — whether or not levels of uptake were as high as desired. The economy has reopened, and with fully vaccinated people more protected against the Delta variant, the United States seems to be in a strong position to limit its spread.
Scientists, though, worry that the variant could soon gain ground in unvaccinated pockets of the United States, where the virus continues to sicken and kill people at elevated rates. The Biden administration is still searching for ways to overcome that vaccine hesitancy.
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