How UK PM Johnson decided to delay COVID reopening

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday delayed by a month his plans to lift the last COVID-19 restrictions in England after modelling showed that thousands more people might die due unless reopening was pushed back.

The move was due to the rapid spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, which is more transmissible, associated with lower vaccine effectiveness against mild disease and could cause more hospitalizations in the unvaccinated.

He said the extra time would be used to speed up Britain’s vaccination program – already one of the world’s furthest advanced – with two thirds of the population expected to have had two shots by July 19.

Here are the details behind the decision:


Models commissioned by the government showed that without a delay to the planned June 21 reopening, in some scenarios hospitalizations could match previous peaks in cases when ministers feared the health system could be overwhelmed.

Three models, made by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London and the University of Warwick, fed into the government’s pandemic modelling subgroup SPI-M-O.

All three found that a delay would lower the peak of a new wave fueled by the Delta variant. A two-week extension would have a significant effect, but four weeks would reduce the peak in hospital admissions by around a third to a half, SPI-M-O said.

SPI-M-O will make fresh projections before July 19 when the full reopening is now expected to take place, with Johnson saying that he does not want to delay reopening again.


Britain has one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world, with over half of adults receiving both doses and more than three quarters receiving at least one, which has led some to question why restrictions need to be extended.

The modelers warned that while protection from vaccines was not perfect, without them, England would be heading back into lockdown.

Imperial epidemiologist Anne Cori told reporters that differences in who was eligible, in rates of uptake, and the fact that vaccine effectiveness was not 100%, all combined to create the possibility of a large wave of hospitalizations.


One worrying aspect of the Delta variant is evidence that it reduces protection from vaccines against symptomatic infection, although experts still hoped it would work against severe disease.

As Johnson announced the postponement, Public Health England published data showing shots made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca offer high protection against hospitalization from the variant identified in India of 96% and 92% respectively after two doses.

Asked if that data, released after the models were made, would have an impact on the projections, Cori said they had used different efficacy assumptions for their models, and PHE figures would help to narrow down the range of likely scenarios.

“The optimistic vaccine efficacy or perhaps the central (scenarios) are definitely more likely than the most pessimistic set of vaccine efficacies we had looked at,” she said.


Many lawmakers in Johnson’s own party expressed dismay at the delay, with Steve Baker saying some people “increasingly believe they are never going to see true freedom again.”

Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said the delay would buy time to learn more about the Delta variant, and get more shots in arms.

But he said increased risks of opening on June 21 were hard to quantify, and economic costs were not being modelled with anywhere near the same rigor.

“I do wonder how the government can make good decisions on the balance between restrictions on what we can do, if they have detailed modelling of infections, vaccines, hospitalizations and deaths (including information on the likely uncertainties), but no detailed modelling (that I’ve seen) on the economic and social costs of the restrictions,” he said.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Josephine Mason and Alison Williams)

Bolsonaro threatens WHO exit as COVID-19 kills ‘a Brazilian per minute’

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Jair Bolsonaro threatened on Friday to pull Brazil out of the World Health Organization after the U.N. agency warned Latin American governments about the risk of lifting lockdowns before slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region.

A new Brazilian record for daily COVID-19 fatalities pushed the county’s death toll past that of Italy late on Thursday, but Bolsonaro continues to argue for quickly lifting state isolation orders, arguing that the economic costs outweigh public health risks.

Latin America’s most populous nations, Brazil and Mexico, are seeing the highest rates of new infections, though the pandemic is also gathering pace in countries such as Peru, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia.

Overall, more than 1.1 million Latin Americans have been infected. While most leaders have taken the pandemic more seriously than Bolsonaro, some politicians that backed strict lockdowns in March and April are pushing to open economies back up as hunger and poverty grow.

In an editorial running the length of newspaper Folha de S.Paulo’s front page, the Brazilian daily highlighted that just 100 days had passed since Bolsonaro described the virus now “killing a Brazilian per minute” as “a little flu.”

“While you were reading this, another Brazilian died from the coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Brazil’s Health Ministry reported late on Thursday that confirmed cases in the country had climbed past 600,000 and 1,437 deaths had been registered within 24 hours, the third consecutive daily record.

Brazil reported another 1,005 deaths Friday night, while Mexico reported 625 additional deaths.

With more than 35,000 lives lost, the pandemic has killed more people in Brazil than anywhere outside of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asked about efforts to loosen social distancing orders in Brazil despite rising daily death rates and diagnoses, World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said a key criteria for lifting lockdowns was slowing transmission.

“The epidemic, the outbreak, in Latin America is deeply, deeply concerning,” she told a news conference in Geneva. Among six key criteria for easing quarantines, she said, “one of them is ideally having your transmission declining.”

In comments to journalists later Friday, Bolsonaro said Brazil will consider leaving the WHO unless it ceases to be a “partisan political organization.”

President Donald Trump, an ideological ally of Bolsonaro, said last month that the United States would end its own relationship with the WHO, accusing it of becoming a puppet of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

Bolsonaro’s dismissal of the coronavirus risks to public health and efforts to lift state quarantines have drawn criticism from across the political spectrum in Brazil, where some accuse him of using the crisis to undermine democratic institutions.

But many of those critics are divided about the safety and effectiveness of anti-government demonstrations in the middle of a pandemic, especially after one small protest was met with an overwhelming show of police force last weekend.

Alfonso Vallejos Parás, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said infections are high in Latin America as the virus was slow to gain a foothold in the region.

“It is hard to estimate when the pace of infection will come down,” he said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Gabriela Mello in Sao Paulo, Gram Slattery and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Adriana Barrera in Mexico City; Editing by Brad Haynes, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)