So, the absurdly named “freedom day” is being postponed. Excellent news, and, if the opinion polls are anything to go by, perfectly acceptable to a much larger proportion of the population than you might believe.
When the news leaked, as it inevitably does, on a Friday evening, I rejoiced. For me, freedom means freedom from the fear of me – and you – suffering from a potentially deadly disease. Even the double-jabbed cannot count themselves 100 per cent protected from the dire effects of Covid-19. Whatever our individual immunity levels, we also need a wider community effect to limit the spread of the disease – herd immunity – and that has not yet reached a sufficiently safe level.
A further wait is practical – and, according to the noises coming from the Treasury, affordable – and businesses and families will be supported (though more could and should be done).
After the relaxation of many of the lockdown measures last month and the emergence of the more infectious Delta/Indian variant, cases are rising. A third Covid wave seems inevitable – it is a question of how hard it will hit us. The vaccination programme is clearly having a beneficial effect, and the link between Covid infection and hospital admission has been weakened – but not completely severed. A few more weeks may mean the nation reaches something closer to herd immunity, and more of the young will be vaccinated and therefore less likely to pass on the illness, asymptomatically, to older friends and family. Lockdown is, as it has always been, a price worth paying for a chance of real, lasting freedom.
Besides – and no disrespect to businesses and individuals suffering the economic, mental and educational effects of the remaining and past restrictions – there seems to be plenty of freedom even now. As it happens, I spent part of the weekend in Skegness (lucky me) which I’d not visited for many years and was great fun.
It was heartening to see so many families out and about enjoying themselves, and the town, which has had its share of hard times, getting a bit of a boost – plenty of traffic jams, and boarding houses with “no vacancies” signs in the windows.
One good thing that might come out of this grim episode in our history is a noisy reminder that, given a bit of decent weather, the British seaside has all the soft sandy beaches and popular delights to match anything elsewhere. In Skeggy (a fine slogan the East Lindsey District Council can have for free), with a dressed crab, a raspberry ripple cone, and an England match for afters, I found it hard to share the view of Dan Wootton on GB News, who claimed that some politicians and health officials are trying “to create an ultra-cautious biosecurity state”.
We should, then, get freedom day in perspective. These are the closing stages – one hopes – in this struggle, and we have only made it as far as we have because we followed the science (and suffered setbacks when we failed to do so).
Nonetheless, the question Nigel Farage poses about freedom day – “If not now, when?” – is apt, given that winter might bring another surge. There’s no good answer to that, except “when it is safe” and “as long as we can borrow to support the economy”.
With luck, though, another few weeks should make the critical difference.