Sunday, 25 April 2021

Britain is at the end of its Covid tether

There was a huge anti-lockdown demonstration in London yesterday. About this time last year I was saying the people led us into lockdown and they will lead us out again when the time is right. I do not know for a fact if that time is now, but I generally trust the instinct of the crowd if not their arguments.

The facts are that Covid is generally a winter virus. There is a vaccine the powers that be thinks is going to work, masks are of limited use, and people are fed up with it all.
So is that latter factor reason enough to open up? To a point, yes. Government has to be by consent. A partial lifting of controls for many is no different to a complete lockdown. Particularly business owners. There is little merit in waiting for the young to be vaccinated. For the most part they don't need it.

The protest most certainly had its crank wing, and the civil liberties complaints do seem a little unhinged, and on balance I probably wouldn't have joined the protest, but I am glad they did it all the same if only as a gentle reminder that there is only so much we will take. I don't want to see vaccine passports and the sooner we can put our masks in the bin the better.

What one should note about the protest is the lack of silly face painting, SWP placards and Unison banners. This was no orchestrated middle class white whinge. This was 100% authentic. And it was massive. There were no rich lobbying organisations paying to bus people in like the so-called People's Vote marches. This is only going to grow and it's not going to ask for permission.

I think the government will likely take note of it and it will probably influence policy unless we see a new surge of the virus in which case we will probably see a continuation of current controls but no tighter restrictions. Anything over and above what is presently asked of us will likely see repeated demonstrations which could evolve into a yellow vest style movement across the country.
In the meantime we will no doubt see every "expert" and his dog chiming in to condemn it, but like Brexit, people will ignore the hectoring and come to their own conclusions.

My hunch is that it's all a bit premature and there is no room for complacency but by the same token, the government has had its window to get its act together and if it hasn't by now then it never will. The virus is now endemic, and to a point is controllable. The public cannot be asked to make further sacrifices to make up the shortfall of government competence. We're going to have to manage the risks.

Over the summer months I think we can afford to ditch social distancing, and masks in most instances save for public transport and small shops. Depending on what the numbers are doing in late October should inform the next move, but I'm inclined to think, given people's natural propensity to semi-hibernate over winter, further lockdowns are not required and cannot be sustained politically. The government is going to have to devise a coherent shielding policy if only for propaganda purposes.

We will likely see panic in some quarters as India and Brazil struggle to cope with a Covid surge but it should be recalled that it works globally the same way it does nationally as a series of outbreaks bubbling up all over concurrently. There are no "waves" as such. Just outbreaks of varying concentration and intensity.

As to whether we have now established a national "herd immunity" is well outside my capacity to comment, but it is reasonable to assume we have being that it has now swept through every town and village. The job of the government is now to ensure hospitals can cope with surges. With new established treatments and the vaccine, the rationale for further lockdowns looks weak. At this point it should be able to cope. If it can't then it's a management issue, not a medical issue.

I'm not quite ready to join them at the barricades just yet but I am certainly leaning in that direction. This is as much a political assessment as a medical one and on balance we have to consider the growing mental health crisis along with cancer backlogs. As a public health issue, we can no longer afford to give Covid the exclusive priority and the young need to live. We need to see from the government that the direction of travel is away from sledgehammer measures especially when it keeps missing the nut.

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