National Comment Comment

The worst may be over, but the pandemic is not

The government has eased Covid-19 restrictions too prematurely - and this could cost many lives

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Unfortunately, Covid-19 has caught up with me. I’m writing this from my bedroom, having voluntarily lived there for the best part  of six days, to avoid infecting my housemates and friends. The timing is almost hilariously ironic: I seem to have caught Covid on the day (we are led to believe) the pandemic ended. Luckily, I haven’t been too ill – the  vaccines have helped enormously. I was  probably well enough to act as normal, but it felt irresponsible to infect classmates and friends, so I dutifully stayed away.

Earlier on in the pandemic, young  people were targeted with warnings of  “don’t kill granny”, and continuously vilified and blamed for spreading the virus, but since 24 February, in an attempt to move towards ‘normality’, if you test positive for Covid-19 you are no longer required by law to isolate. Instead, you’re only advised to avoid contact.

Contact tracing ended, as did support payments for isolating. From 1 April, free mass testing will end, to be replaced by targeted testing for the most vulnerable people in society. At that point, you don’t even have to stay home with Covid – it becomes personal responsibility. I don’t want to sound like a pessimist, because there is now a very visible light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccines have helped exponentially and we’re in a much better place, but whilst the worst may be over, the pandemic isn’t – no matter how much the government tries to persuade us otherwise.

To clarify, I don’t believe we should be in another lockdown, or have any of the more extreme restrictions from March 2020. I go to parties, I see friends, I go clubbing; I’m not saying we should all see nobody again. But I do believe that easing all restrictions so quickly and prematurely is a mistake, and one that will cost lives. And it appears to be an entirely political move. There’s no scientific basis for the most recent lifting of restrictions; in fact, there have been numerous warnings from health experts about doing so.

We need to live with the virus, that’s true, and a sense of normality has been so nice: complaining about in-person seminars, for instance, has been lovely, a fundamental part of university that I haven’t experienced since my first year, and vaccines were a big part of that. But living with Covid shouldn’t be introduced in this reckless way.

Even though Omicron is less severe, it’s not “mild”, states Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Head of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It’s more transmissible too, so more people will be ill with it, then proportionally more people seriously ill with it, then new variants will occur. In the week to 2 January, there were 9.5 million global cases, up 71 percent from the week before, demonstrating how quickly the strain takes hold.

Self-isolating being a personal responsibility inevitably means some will be forced into work or school. By putting responsibility on individuals to isolate, but giving them no means to do so, means if or when things go wrong, the government can’t be blamed. Boris Johnson will shrug it off, like he’s shrugged off so many other scandals in his premiership – but he will have even more blood on his hands.

Reducing testing not only means infections will increase, but that if widescale testing facilities are needed again, it’ll be a harder, slower process to get them going, and public cooperation will be lower. It’ll hinder the vaccine programme too, which was a significant force in the fight against Omicron. Though over 49 million people have had their first and second doses, according to the BBC, only 38 million so far have had their booster. Now that the pandemic is “all over”, more people will be reluctant to get their final jab – because it seems, what’s the point?

Reserving testing for the most vulnerable people is almost pointless. What good is knowing that the most at-risk in society have Covid, when if testing was kept as it is now, we could’ve ensured we don’t unknowingly spread it? The government’s argument is that it will save billions, but this shows the government prioritise money over lives, because removing restrictions is inherently ableist.

Ending restrictions is a political choice. Operation Save Big Dog was Johnson’s self-titled plan to save himself as Prime Minister, after the chaos of the 16 parties investigated in Sue Gray’s report, and this is another flail for confidence from the Conservatives. Johnson’s acting too soon is actually him distracting from his incompetence as leader.

This government has shown repeatedly that they don’t care about the people they supposedly represent; they’ve ignored advice, acted too late and risked countless lives before, now they’re ignoring advice, acting too early and risking countless lives.

From the beginning of the pandemic, there’s been a lack of leadership and clear messaging, and I’m afraid this limbo that we’re now in will only cost more lives.

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