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Boris Johnson at Covid-19 press conference

Boris Johnson at Covid-19 press conference, Photo: Simon Dawson / Number 10 Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, linked at bottom of article

People are once again showing more sense than those who govern them, argues Terina Hine.

The planned Freedom Day celebrations, at an historic venue intended to summon VE Day emotions, were quietly cancelled by Downing Street as Monday was ushered in with scenes of nightclub revelers and little else bar caution and confusion.

A ‘damp squib’, ‘mixed messaging’ and ‘carry-on-chaos’ were the cliches the headline writers used to describe the long-awaited and four-week postponed Freedom Day.

We can now throw away our masks, but should keep wearing them; we have freedom to go to clubs, but should avoid crowded, indoor venues; and we are free to go to work, unless pinged, at which point we join the PM and Chancellor in self-isolation, or alternatively, as business minister Paul Scully suggested, just ignore the ping. Never mind that the app has saved around 8,000 lives. Businesses need workers, so ignore if you wish.

But, however our leaders try to spin it, the public are acutely aware the pandemic is far from over, and rather than keenly ignoring the app are instead ignoring the calls for business as usual.

Transport for London reported that Freedom Day saw the number of tube journeys unchanged from the previous week - remaining at 38% of pre-Covid demand - and bus journeys were actually down by 4%, at two-thirds of normal levels. Mask compliance on busses and tubes remains unchanged at roughly 85%.

A poll conducted by YouGov found 28% of people who usually go shopping on the high street are uncomfortable doing so now restrictions have been lifted, and more than 40% say the same about going to pubs and cinemas. Almost 60% of those who used to go to large indoor events say they would not return.

One major pub group reported that, as infections soared, so did nervousness amongst customers; many pubs and restaurants, like Downing Street, cancelled yesterday’s planned celebrations. Perhaps the great unlocking will not be so great for business after all?

In an attempt to keep Britain moving while in the grip of the fourth wave, the government will announce today which double-jabbed key workers are exempt from self-isolation rules if contacted by track and trace. The list is expected to include hospital staff, the border force, and those working in food and essential utility delivery. But there is pressure from Tory MPs and business leaders for it to be a much longer list to counter the so called ‘pingdemic’.

The fact that so many are being pinged and are isolating is not because the app is failing, but rather because the government is. We are now experiencing case levels as high as they have ever been, and for all the vaccine success, there are still 30 million people in the UK not double vaccinated - including 16 million adults.

And we know infection spreads even within the vaccinated population, as the health minister has so kindly exemplified. Contact tracing and isolation may be inconvenient, but as the NHS is once again being put under unsustainable pressure, preventing further infections is crucial.

Yet, as Dominic Cummings’ latest disclosures reveal, Boris Johnson cares little for the NHS being overwhelmed - indeed he was apparently in complete denial of it. He is more than willing to risk the lives and health of millions to help his political career and pander to the Daily Telegraph and his libertarian back benchers.

So, we have been given our freedom. But what freedom? It means nothing if you are clinically vulnerable, or are one of 40,000 who yesterday tested positive for Covid, or are one of the 322,170 who tested positive in the last week, or are one of over 4,000 currently in hospital with the disease.

It means nothing if you become one of the 200,000 expected to contract Covid over the summer, or are one of the more than 1,000 per day being admitted to our overstretched hospitals. It means nothing if you are one of millions waiting for surgery. It means nothing if your loved one has already died because of this government’s repeated failure to act.

All it means is that the government has granted itself freedom from responsibility, while condemning the rest of us.

And, as if conducting some masterplan designed to confuse, having started Freedom Day with the experiment ‘how many young people in a nightclub can catch Covid’, the government ended the day threatening to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and pubs. What a mess. The world is watching this great British experiment with horror.

The public have repeatedly shown more sense than the clowns in charge. Just as in March 2020, when lockdown was introduced so leisurely, today people are voting with their feet: staying at home, keeping their masks, and skipping the excitement of crowded barrooms and commuter trains for a little longer. So much for the great unlocking.

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