Why Freedom Day hasn't really given us our freedom

Kele in her brightly coloured face mask ready to shop in Ipswich. Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN

Kele in her brightly coloured face mask ready to shop in Ipswich. Picture:SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

The Covid vaccine roll-out in Britain has been a big success and Boris Johnson has tried at every available opportunity to claim the political credit for this.

But the last week has reminded us that, for most of this crisis, his government’s response has been characterised by dither, delay, chaos and confusion.

Monday July 19, 2021 was supposed to be “Freedom Day” when we threw off our masks, restrictions were “irreversibly” removed and Boris Johnson declared victory over the virus.

Instead, the Prime Minister spent the day in self-isolation following a hasty U-turn on an attempt to bend the rules, the advice changed to wear masks indoors and on public transport, and it was announced vaccine passports are going to be introduced.

The Government’s message has changed so many times it’s hard to say what their strategy now is. The most plausible explanation of their actions is that they have resurrected their plan for “herd immunity” but are afraid to admit it.

If that’s the case, then it is a huge gamble: that the vaccine will slow hospitalisations sufficiently to stop the NHS becoming overwhelmed. If it fails then, at best, lockdowns will be reimposed. At worst, a new variant could emerge that beats the vaccine putting us back to square one.

It’s not a gamble any other country is currently prepared to take. Israel and the Netherlands have tentatively tried but quickly rowed back when infections rocketed.

The most astonishing thing about Boris Johnson’s plan to let infections soar is that no one appears to have given any thought to the knock-on consequences.

If more people are going to be infected, then more people are going to be told to self-isolate and not be able go to work. This includes people working in the NHS where staff shortages are currently causing more disruption than increased Covid cases.

Even though infections in Ipswich are still relatively low, you can still see empty shelves in supermarkets and notices in shop and pub windows saying “closed due to staff self-isolation”.

Far from Boris Johnson’s “Freedom Day” further opening the economy, it is in danger of shutting it down again, only this time there is no government support for affected businesses.