As England’s so-called “freedom day” draws near, excitement at the impending end of COVID-19 restrictions is tempered by worries of rising cases and downright fear among the vulnerable.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to move England to Step 4 – the end of legal lockdown curbs – on Monday.
That means the last remaining businesses still closed, including nightclubs, can finally reopen.
“At some point we’ve got to find a way to move forward,” said Eugene Wild, co-founder of The Cause club in north London which has been shut since March 2020.
He favours testing people before clubbing, but fears another shutdown if things go badly. “I don’t think we could go through this again and survive financially,” he added, speaking at the 1,200-capacity venue, which will open right after midnight when the curbs end for a party called Adonis.
In the Netherlands, nightclubs opened for two weeks before being closed again while Israel has also reimposed some restrictions as cases rose.
Johnson acknowledges that a wave of infections when restrictions end and more deaths are inevitable, but said worse harm would come from keeping the economy shut and a successful vaccine rollout has cut the number of serious cases.
Many scientists point to the more transmissible Delta variant, which has become dominant in Britain, as changing the calculation since the roadmap was laid out in February.
“It’s not inevitable that you’re going to have an exit wave… it’s only inevitable if we’re not going to do anything about it,” Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at UCL, told Reuters.
“Delta has changed the equation, it’s made it much harder to rely on vaccination to bring cases down on its own.”
Britain has the seventh highest death toll in the world but has seen two thirds of adults receive two doses of vaccine.
That has given Johnson confidence to push ahead with easing restrictions, after a four-week delay due to Delta. He says summer, when schools shut and pressures on the health service are lower, is the best time to reopen, though with caution.
But with health minister Sajid Javid saying cases could hit 100,000 a day, more than 1,000 scientists have signed a letter to condemn government strategy as “unscientific and unethical.”
Critics say the strategy will not only cause deaths but also debilitating long COVID in many, while increasing risks to the clinically vulnerable.