By Oliver Gibson –
The Government brought into force new Covid-19 restrictions yesterday and consulted Parliament on those measures retrospectively – that is to say, our elected representatives voted on laws after they were imposed.
No. 10 argues that these measures are ‘temporary’ and will be ‘reviewed’ in three weeks. However, it was confirmed last night that certain restrictions, such as on self-isolation, will remain in place until at least March 2022.
Explaining the case for the Government’s actions, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that these restrictions, together with a booster jab, will save Christmas. Those who closely followed the events of last year, however, will notice that this messaging sounds familiar. Indeed, the Government claimed that last year’s measures would save Christmas too. They even went as far as to say that the 19th of July was our “Freedom Day.”
So, what’s changed? And how long will these measures last?
As of Tuesday the 30th of November, mask-wearing inside shops, takeaways, hairdressers and public transport became mandatory – with fines of £200 being issued for those not in compliance. Furthermore, fines will be doubled each time a person infracts upon the rules. At this time, the maximum fine that could be issued will amount to £6,400.
The Government also said that pupils from Year 7 upwards and university students should wear masks. The University of Huddersfield itself issued a statement to students and staff explaining that mask-wearing is compulsory and that students should test twice weekly with LFD kits.
Other changes were covered by KLTV in an article from Tuesday.
For the moment, the Government has said that hospitality venues are ‘exempt’ from these rules. However, a number of businesses in that sector are already seeing cancellations from customers worried about the prospect of another lockdown.
While Boris Johnson has urged the public not to cancel their Christmas plans, it is clear to see that this is already happening.
It must now be asked whether or not we can expect more restrictions to be imposed in three weeks’ time – or whether we are headed for yet another lockdown.
Are we headed for another lockdown?
Johnson said that the Government’s measures would make for a ‘considerably better’ Christmas than last year in a press conference from Downing Street yesterday. However, Johnson also explained that a fourth lockdown was ‘not ruled out.’ Further to this, the head of the UK Health Security Agency said that people ought not to socialise unless it is ‘particularly’ needed.
This kind of mixed-messaging, which the Government has been criticised for in the past, does little to quell fears that further restrictions, and perhaps another lockdown, are on the way.
In short, the total case numbers are not the only cause for an easing or an extension of restrictions. As was pointed out by the Guardian, who produced an infographic, the daily cases for the 30 November were 39,716. Daily cases were actually down by 2,768 from the week before.
Additionally, a graphic produced by Our World in Data – see below – shows the UK’s number of Covid-19 cases per million people is significantly lower than the figure for many European countries.
UK cases compared to a host of European countries: pic.twitter.com/AQTglZ1F6x
— Tom Harwood (@tomhfh) November 30, 2021
It may well be the case that the Government is keen to act more quickly to tackle the ‘Omicron variant’ than it did to curb the ‘Delta variant’ last year. As such, No. 10 may choose to extend the restrictions beyond December or even enlarge them to affect other industries in order to slow the spread of an already endemic disease.
The key question here, of course, concerns liberties. If we should learn to live with Covid, as Sajid Javid argued earlier this year, then why are we still having to live with restrictions? The Government has not yet answered this fundamental question, who, of course, are keen to keep their language somewhat vague while much about the Omicron variant remains unknown.
It is indeed a poor state of affairs where rights are infringed upon and liberties removed, while questions are to be asked later. Many scientists believe Covid is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. This pattern could well be in place for years as new variants can be expected to emerge down the line.
We as individuals must ask the Government when we can again go about our lives without state oversight. While it is impossible to predict exactly how long the Coronavirus will remain in circulation, we must at least be told the conditions for a return to normal life in clear terms.
It simply does not do for the Government to continually shift goalposts and even to mislead the public. By now, after twenty-one months, the claim that restrictions will only go on for another three weeks does not wash. If there is a compelling case for restrictions to return, then this must be debated in Parliament before our liberties are curbed.
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