COVID infections in the UK are at the highest recorded level, so what's next?

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Photo credit: Ergin Yalcin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ergin Yalcin - Getty Images

COVID-19 cases are at their highest recorded level, according to a study that has been monitoring cases since May 2020. But, with Boris Johnson reportedly "dead set" on avoiding another lockdown, many people are questioning why social distancing measures and enforced mask wearing haven't been reintroduced given the increase in cases.

Researchers working on the REACT-1 study, which found that prevalence of the virus across England had increased to 1.72% compared with 0.83% in September, said the next ten days would be "critical" in determining how the spread of the virus will affect our everyday lives.

According to the study, the increase in the spread of the virus is being driven by high rates of infections amongst school-aged children, highlighting that one in 17 children were infected between 19 October and 29 October. Experts are concerned that, as children return to school after the October half-term, infection rates will sky rocket.

This time last year, the UK had been plunged into its second lockdown. According to government statistics, there were 19,209 daily cases on 31 October 2020, compared to 35,475 on the same date in 2021. Given the fact we're currently witnessing almost double the amount of cases compared to last year, are we heading into another lockdown?

Photo credit: Jon Challicom - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jon Challicom - Getty Images

"We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is exactly why we set out our COVID Plan for autumn and winter," a spokesperson for the government told Cosmopolitan UK. "We are monitoring all the data closely, and the prime minister has been clear that it does not yet show that Plan B is necessary. But it is ready should we need to act to avoid a rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS."

The spokesperson added that the government's focus "remains on our booster campaign, vaccinating 12-15 year olds and encouraging those who haven’t yet come forward to have their jab."

Essentially, the government's deciding factor on whether to impose another lockdown boils down to pressure on the NHS. "The UK response is based on trying to balance the capacity of the NHS against COVID related demand," explained Professor John R. Bryson, an expert on rapid adaptation during times of disruptive and radical change at Birmingham University. "Currently, it would appear that the health service is coping, but if capacity issues emerge then the only response would be an attempt to break the cycle of transmission by imposing lockdowns (local or national)."

Photo credit: Andriy Onufriyenko - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andriy Onufriyenko - Getty Images

Professor Bryson, who also edited Living with Pandemics: Places, People and Policy, continued: "The government is making decisions based on balancing the transmission rate, with NHS capacity and economic recovery. Part of this balancing process involves an assessment about the impacts of the vaccination programme and the need for boosters."

Ultimately, Bryson points out, "the key message is that vaccination is important for limiting COVID transmission, but everyone living in the UK must appreciate that they need to learn to live with this virus."

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