Evening Standard Comment: July 19 – an experiment that could go either way

·2-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

It is a subject ripe for farce. A “Freedom Day” in which Covid cases are skyrocketing, record numbers of school children are out of class and the Prime Minister and Chancellor have (reluctantly) joined the hundreds of thousands of people in self-isolation, having come into contact with a Health Secretary who has tested positive for the virus.

It seems Boris Johnson has once again fallen foul of his own optimism and boosterism, allowing words like “freedom” or “irreversible” to ring hollow.

We all want a return to a world without restrictions, but it is now clear we are in the midst of a grand summer experiment: with the economy, the NHS and our health.

Vaccines have weakened the relationship between infections, hospitalisations and death. While Covid cases have exceeded 50,000 a day for the first time since mid-January, with 41 deaths recorded on Saturday, it is a far cry from the winter, when deaths did not fall below 500 a day between December 21 and February 11. We have come a long way since those dark days.

But vaccines have not broken the link. Sajid Javid predicts cases could reach 100,000 a day later in the summer, while Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that they could be as high as 200,000 a day with 2,000 hospital admissions.

The real focus must now turn to the so-called “pingdemic”, which threatens to become a lockdown by other means. Supermarkets and restaurants, already struggling for staff, are warning they may have to close, while the Metropolitan line was forced to shut on Saturday. We should have been better prepared for this eventuality.

We should be making far greater use of lateral flow tests; the technology is there for people to provide evidence of a negative test at venues — why not on the test and trace app? The pilot — under which “pinged” essential workers can still work — should be rolled out fast in key areas. For example, if someone has been double jabbed and is pinged, why should they not work if they are testing themselves every day?

This is not freedom day, it is an experiment, and there is now a clear difference between the political parties. As participants, Londoners must continue to do what they can — get vaccinated and use their common sense, and be considerate of your fellow citizen.

And don’t leave the house without a mask — for many places it is still mandatory.

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