LONDON (AP) – When the London Science Museum reopens next week it will have some new pieces: empty vaccine vials, test kits and other items compiled during the pandemic, all of which will be part of an exhibit on COVID-19.
But Britain is not yet ready to send the coronavirus to a museum – the epidemic is far from over. However, the sense that the corner has been turned and the country is in an optimistic mood is evident.
“The end is in sight,” said a newspaper on its front page. “Free at last!” Said another.
Thanks to an effective vaccination program, Britain is finally leaving behind months of severe restrictions.
As of Monday, all restaurants and bars in England will be able to reopen with certain precautions, as will hotels, theaters and museums. And the British will be able to embrace friends and relatives again due to a relaxation of social distancing rules that have been in place since the start of the pandemic.
It is the biggest step taken to date to reopen the country after a remission of the crisis, which has left almost 128,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Great Britain, the highest number among the nations of Europe.
Daily deaths from COVID-19 in Britain have dropped to less than 10 in recent days. The situation is very different from January, when deaths exceeded 1,800 in a single day amid a brutal second wave driven by a more infectious variant first detected in the south-east of England.
New cases have dropped to an average of about 2,000 per day, compared to nearly 70,000 per day during the winter peak.
But there are still things to worry about. British authorities this week raised concerns about an increase in cases of a variant of the new coronavirus initially identified in India that appears to be more communicable. Authorities said Friday they will speed up the date for giving the second dose of the vaccine to people 50 and older to increase protection.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported that while the new variant could “represent a serious disruption” to Britain’s progress towards recovery, there appears to be no evidence that an increase in cases “translates into unmanageable pressures” on British hospitals.
British health authorities have sought to get ahead of the virus by vaccinating hundreds of thousands of people a day in hospitals, soccer fields and churches across the country. As of this week, 36 million people, approximately 68% of the adult population, have received their first dose. Some 19 million people have already received both doses.
It’s an impressive feat, and many credit Britain’s universal public health system for much of the success.
Experts affirm that the National Health Service, one of the most respected institutions in the country, can cover the entire population and easily identify those most at risk, because almost all of them are registered with a general practitioner.
That infrastructure was key, as was the early application of vaccines. British authorities ordered millions of doses from multiple manufacturers in late spring last year, months ahead of the European Union and securing more than enough vaccines to inoculate its entire population.
Associated Press reporter Mike Fuller contributed to this report.