2021-07-19 02:17:58 UTC
The UK government’s decision to end most Coronavirus restrictions from
19th July in England has attracted considerable backlash. Labour is
opposed, the international press has been fairly negative, and 1200
scientists and other individuals have signed an open letter calling for
the re-opening to be delayed. This blogger believes the government got
this one right: seeing that Covid is unlikely to ever disappear from
Britain, let alone from Planet Earth, and that 88% of the adult
population have received at least one vaccine dose (68% received both),
there is no convincing case to continue with the restrictions.
To start, we must dispel with the pretense that there is a scientific
consensus in favour of keeping the restrictions. Experts are divided,
and lifting the lockdown is a fundamentally a political decision anyway,
involving a complex, unquantifiable judgement of conflicting values and
priorities, rather than a scientific numbers-crunching exercise.
Throughout the pandemic, public discussion of the emergency measures has
been poisoned by pretense that “The Science“ always requires us to
implement and maintain the harshest restrictions, and anything shy of
that is an anti-scientific cop-out. To move on, public opinion must
recognise that the lockdown measures have had terrifying side effects,
which public policy must careful weigh up against their – often
uncertain and unquantifiable – benefits.
The decision to open up is informed, at its core, by the realization
that Covid is unlikely to be eradicated in the foreseeable future, and
that it will remain an endemic virus that ebbs and flows, like other
viruses do. This is not a controversial view – the overwhelming majority
of scientists, even of the pro-restrictions variety, accept this. The
vision of Zero Covid – the idea that one day, the final Covid patient
would recover and there would be no more transmission of Covid in the
community – has taken several fatal blows recently with vaccines seeming
less effective at stopping infection (they are still incredibly good at
stopping serious disease, hospitalization or death), and with a number
of Zero Covid success stories (the likes of Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand,
Australia) experiencing record outbreaks. Even leading Zero Covid
proponents seem to be wavering in their faith, admitting if they had
their way, some restrictions would continue forever, which they still
see as preferable to accepting endemic Covid.
Perpetual restrictions would be unpopular, and opponents of the
re-opening generally do not propose this. This is a fundamental flaw of
their reasoning – if we accept that (a) Covid will not be eradicated and
(b) we must re-open at some point, why is re-opening at a future date
preferable to 19th July?
Some say that the re-opening should be delayed until more people have
received their second vaccine doses. This is unconvincing – data from
the UK and elsewhere shows that Covid can still spread in an
overwhelmingly vaccinated population (Gibraltar). Since everyone
statistically at risk from Covid has received their two shots a long
time ago, hospitalizations and deaths remain very low, despite the
ongoing “case-demic“. Delaying the re-opening by say a couple of months
to September would mean we would lift restrictions just as the school
year starts and with the winter flu season imminent (some experts think
this year’s flu season will be particularly bad given the lack of
immunity in the population due to the lockdown). Surely, most people
opposed to re-opening in July would also be opposed to re-opening in
Other propose to drop some restrictions while also keeping some – masks,
for example. Given the government’s usual flip-flopping and inability to
stick with anything, it looks like post-Freedom Day, Britain will have a
confusing patchwork of mask rules, where masks are required on certain
train lines but not others. It’s hard to see what people think this will
achieve – if our current restrictions aren’t stopping the outbreak, why
would a much-watered down version do the trick?
It is natural that people want a more gradual return to normality.
People are still terrified of Covid, despite the successful vaccine
roll-out (the government’s fear-based advertisement campaigns earlier in
the year probably did not help things). Public opinion overestimates the
efficacy of many of the anti-pandemic measures and is hesitant to throw
them all out (surface disinfection has been proven useless, the plastic
dividers so prevalent in shops and restaurants are probably making
things worse, and the data on cloth masks is far from clear-cut).
Endemic Covid means that all of us will likely be exposed to the virus
multiple times in our lives. Delaying the re-opening cannot change this
fact. The pandemic emergency measures have gone on for 17 months – it is
high time to move on.
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