By Oliver Gibson –
Having spent what is now a year and a quarter living under Coronavirus restrictions, many were hoping that 21 June would be the day in which life could begin to return to normal.
Though it is indeed true that many thousands have suffered at the hands of the Coronavirus, many more have also suffered at the hands of the very policies that were designed to keep the public safe.
Alongside the heavy toll that lockdowns have taken on the economy, they have also prevented cancer patients from seeking and receiving treatment from NHS services, separated family members and friends from one another and undoubtedly caused or exacerbated scars in the country’s collective mental health.
We have been consistently told since the start of this year that vaccines would take us out of this situation. So, as Theresa May said in the House of Commons on Thursday, it is ‘incomprehensible that one of the most heavily vaccinated countries in the world is one that is most reluctant to give its citizens the freedoms those vaccines should support.’
Headlines have been devoted to the rise of the ‘R number’ in the UK from 1.2 to 1.4 this week. To put this into context, daily cases from 24 May to 30 May never exceeded 5,000, however daily cases have been above 5,000 every day since 3 June. Still, the highest number of daily cases recorded since 3 June has been 8125.
Such a rise in daily cases and virus transmission would have sparked alarm from politicians, health officials and from the public prior to the rollout of Britain’s vaccination programme. This would be due to the rise in deaths and hospitalisations that previously went hand-in-hand with a rise in cases. However, as things stood on 13 June, only 1,089 people are currently hospitalised for the Coronavirus. Furthermore, only 158 of those patients are described as being ‘on ventilation.’ These figures can be found on the Government website here.
In total, there are around 120,000 hospital beds in the United Kingdom. This means that only 0.9% of hospital beds are currently being used to treat Covid patients. So, what’s the hold up? Why are some calling for a delay to our return to normal life?
The ‘Delta variant’
Papers have been churning out story after story about the ‘Delta’ or ‘Indian variant’ of the Coronavirus. Similarly, there seems to be no end to the discussions about that variant by politicians and Government officials.
In fairness, ‘the science’ does seem to have reached the conclusion that the Delta variant is significantly more transmissible than the standard strain of the virus. However, as explained before, daily cases are not rising at an exponential rate as things stand, though they have worsened slightly.
A common talking point about the Delta variant is how it is more deadly to those who have not yet been vaccinated against the Coronavirus. The BBC revealed in a recent article that ‘more than half’ of those who have died from the Delta variant had ‘not had a Covid vaccine at all.’ According to the same article, the Delta variant is responsible for 90% of the cases that are active in the UK at the moment.
Still, daily covid deaths reached a historic low on 1 June – numbering a total of zero. Daily death figures have been below 100 since March. Clearly, while the Delta variant may be more deadly and transmissible, the UK’s vaccine rollout has had a significant effect on the capability of the Coronavirus to transmit through the public and cause deaths.
It seems like an age ago now, but back in January, we were promised that just ’15 million’ vaccine doses would buy our way out of lockdown and the other Coronavirus restrictions. As of 14 June, 41,698,429 people had received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, and 29,973,779 people had received two doses.
These figures demonstrate a high level of public confidence in the vaccine and the efficiency of the rollout of the vaccine in this country. Locally, when the bookings opened to those aged 18 and above in Kirklees last week, the appointments actually ran out due to the high uptake from the public.
As said previously, these many millions of vaccines have had a clear impact on the ability of the Coronavirus to spread amongst the public and to cause serious illness and death. As serious as these cases are, of course, there are only a few thousand who are currently hospitalised with the virus. Isn’t it now the time to make something of a step, if not the whole journey, towards a return to normality? If we are following the science, as we are often told, then why are we still to be restricted in our movements going forwards?
The political argument
Boris Johnson addressed the situation in full in his press conference on 14 June, much to the annoyance of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, who argued that the constitutionally conventional position is to announce such measures in Parliament before going to the media. In the PM’s defence, the press conference was more of a statement of intent than a formal introduction of policy. However, the Speaker has criticised Government figures for this in the past.
The key part of the Government’s argument for the delay in the final easing of lockdown restrictions concerned the importance of vaccinating more of the population in order to further reduce the risk of the virus to the public, with the PM saying that the four week delay would give the NHS ‘a few more crucial weeks’ with which to vaccinate more people.
According to the BBC, Government scientists had been warning that a ‘significant resurgence’ of the Coronavirus could occur if the Government lifted all restrictions on 21 June – one which would lead to ‘thousands more deaths which could otherwise have been avoided.’
Again, the real trouble with the Government’s message is concerned with trust. We were initially told in March 2020 that just ‘three weeks’ would buy us time to ‘flatten the curve’ and build up our NHS infrastructure, allowing the UK to successfully deal with the Coronavirus for good. However, after multiple extensions, easings and re-implementations we now know that we must take such predictions and promises with a pinch of salt.
Much like the virus itself, the pandemic and governments’ responses to it have both been rapidly developing processes. This, of course, means that it is difficult to predict with any certainty whether the lockdown will actually end on 19 July. Given the Government’s response to the Delta variant, it also logically follows that it is entirely possible that we could lock-down again in the winter, when the flu once again takes hold, or whenever a new variant should happen to appear.
The main argument against the delay concerns the fact, yes the fact, that the Coronavirus has been tamed and also the belief that fifteen months have been spent, or sacrificed, in that pursuit – and that enough is finally enough.
YouGov recently polled members of the public in order to test their enthusiasm and support for an extension of lockdown restrictions. In that poll, it seems as though there is a broad level of support for the Government’s move to delay the easing of those restrictions. Out of a total of 3,107 adults, 70% came out in favour of an extension. Support for the extension was drastically higher among older people – with 81% of those aged 65+ in favour compared to just 54% of those aged 18-24.
On an episode of Public Eye, KLTV investigated whether the people of Kirklees were in support of lockdown being extended past 21 June. Have a watch below: