LONDON—The battle between vaccines and the Delta variant of coronavirus is coming to a head in the U.K., closely watched by the rest of the world. At stake is whether advanced economies with high vaccination rates can enjoy something approaching pre-pandemic life in the face of fast transmitting versions of the virus.
The experiment should give a strong signal of whether Covid-19 can be relegated to the status of a manageable, seasonal menace such as influenza and whether lockdowns and social distancing can be consigned to the past.
In England, almost all Covid-era restrictions were lifted Monday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants Britons to judge for themselves whether to wear a face covering, dance at a nightclub or skip a big gathering.
The shift comes even as caseloads rise rapidly—the U.K. is recording close to 50,000 daily cases, more than reported in Brazil, India, Indonesia or South Africa. The government justifies its actions by pointing to hospitalization rates and deaths that are way below what they were in earlier waves of the pandemic.
The strategy puts the U.K. at odds with its neighbors in Europe, parts of the U.S., and other highly-vaccinated countries such as Israel, where vaccine rollouts are going hand-in-hand with the tightening of some public health measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing to stem the Delta variant’s spread.