There is a car driving towards a cliff.
At this time last year, the country was in a precarious position. Daily new cases of covid had risen above 27,000. The government took the difficult decision to lockdown London in the days before Christmas, with the rest of the country following at new year.
That car is still heading towards the cliff and it’s not slowing down.
In the last week the UK has recorded record numbers of new cases, hitting 93,000 new cases in a day and staying around that level since, driven by the super contagious Omicron Variant. The Government met Monday in a marathon session to discuss the possibility of new restrictions.
That Car is really starting to pick up speed.
The meeting was a showdown between scientists and ministers. The ministers want more data on the Omicron variant before imposing restrictions. The scientists argue that by the time the data comes in, it will be too late.
That car is really racing towards the cliff edge; should we do something?
The Ministers won the debate. Current restrictions were deemed sufficient for now. Masks on public transport, in shops, in most indoor venues, like theatres and cinemas, but not in hospitality settings, like bars and restaurants. Proof of Covid status required for large venues. Mandatory testing for all travellers.
But fear not! They are monitoring the situations and will not hesitate to consider more restrictions as the data comes in.
The car has just cleared the edge of the cliff. Now, the government will advise them to apply the brakes.
In the question of the economy vs the public health, the economy won. Except it didn’t. The short-sighted, hands-off government approach is going to do more harm to the economy that strong action would. let me break it down.
Lets start with public confidence. People are worried. They don’t want to get sick, they don’t want to infect others. They want the reassurance of public safety measures. Pubs and restaurants do not require masks. There are no capacity limits. The government POV is that people should feel free to go to the pub. The problem is, they don’t feel safe to go to the pub. They feel it is increasing their risk. One of the few sensible pieces of advice from Downing st last week was that people need to prioritise their social gatherings. (That advice came from Chief Medical Advisor Chris Whitty, definitely not from BoJo,) People want Christmas with the family, and won’t jeopardise that by putting themselves at unnecessary risk.
As a result, the hospitality sector is faced with cancelled bookings, fewer customers and wasted food. They are suffering from the policies that were meant to bolster them.
The current government policies will do little to slow/curb/halt the spread of the virus, especially the omicron variant. So people will continue to get sick. The Government is basing a lot on the idea that omicron produces a less severe bout of covid, so fewer people end up in hospital. This, again, is a flawed point of view. First, the data is not complete on what omicron does or doesn’t do. Second, even if omicron is less severe for most of the people who get it, it is so infectious that even if only a fraction of those go to hospital, the numbers will catch up.
Thirdly, even if omicron doesn’t send people to hospital, those people are still sick. Businesses are affected when staff can’t come into work, with services reduced and the rest of the staff overworked. Even more frightening, are the people who can’t afford not to work. Our Zero hours contract culture means no sick pay. If you can’t afford not to work, you’ll ignore any symptoms for as long as possible, and you won’t test yourself when someone close to you is sick. Omicron will continue to spread unchecked.
The Government wants to rely on omicron being less severe, but how long will that last? We can’t wait for all the data to come in. Has BoJo never heard the adage “An Ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Especially since there is no cure.
The Economy is, at the most basic level, people spending money. Ignoring the public health crisis means more people will die and do you know who doesn’t spend money? Dead people. Corpses are notoriously tight-fisted.
Oh look, what a pretty fireball that car made when it hit the bottom of the ravine. I guess they applied the brakes too late.