Last week, Boris Johnson officially confirmed what we all expected – that ‘Freedom Day’, the 21st of June, was being delayed for another four weeks. To many, this was unacceptable. As the country with the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, with well over fifty per cent of the adult population vaccinated, we should, as Theresa May so plainly put it recently in Parliament, “be starting to gain the privileges that the successful vaccination programme should support”. Count me as another person shocked to be in agreement with Theresa May.
Over the last sixteen or so months, the biggest frustration to many liberals and conservatives is the constant moving of the goalposts. Remember ‘flatten the sombrero?’ ‘Three weeks to curb the virus and protect the NHS?’ ‘Twelve weeks to turn the tide?’ In summer, we were told autumn was looking positive, and in autumn, we were told Christmas was back on. Look how that turned out.
The new year soon came around. In February we were given a long, but ‘irreversible’ ‘roadmap’ to freedom running through to June. Granted, this is only the first time this roadmap has been delayed, but nevertheless, patience is wearing thin.
So why, after all the above, do I think that delaying freedom day was the correct decision?
It is a matter of pragmatism, and assessing things from a ‘we are where we are’ basis. The fact is, we have already been misled. We are way past there being any genuine prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed, which is still, lest we forget, the official reason for lockdowns and loss of freedoms. Don’t get me started on some of the SAGE modelling, which would predict nine asteroids landing in the Cotswolds if you let them run with it.
I genuinely fear this government is pursuing a ‘zero covid’ strategy behind the scenes, and is not being transparent about what its aims are.
Nevertheless, my thinking is based on the numbers, and the vaccination rate. I may not have supported extending lockdowns in the first place, but, the next few weeks have the potential to be game-changing. No matter how well our vaccinations are going, opening up now is still akin to building a dam with the water present. But another few weeks will significantly boost the numbers of our population on not just one vaccine, but two. To continue my analogy, clear back the water completely (drop the case numbers right down, and boost the vaccinated populace further), and then the picture is starkly different. Quite simply, there is still an argument that we are not quite there yet, and an uber-transmissible variant like the Indian one can take hold in the population. But, with a few more weeks of vaccinations, especially amongst the young-adult population who will be doing the spreading, I do not see how it will be feasible to make the case for continued restrictions.
This is vitally important, as I believe the next battle is going to be fought on getting back to a true normal, and it is going to be a big one. Physical distancing and face masks are an aberration, and we must fight to ensure that they don’t creep into our society long-term. There is already talk of the final ‘freedom day’ being watered down somewhat to maintain these vile measures, and that should worry us all.
So I want this lockdown extension as a tool. With a population more or less fully vaccinated, it will not be easy to create the case that an inevitable new variant must lead to more lockdowns and loss of liberty.
We have come this far. They may have moved the goalposts, but let us run with it. Hold out for a few more weeks, get more shots in arms, and then fully unlock. Let us then prepare ourselves for more battles of liberty. There will be plenty.