It is so-called Freedom Day. The masks can come off and social distancing no longer applies. We can meet in crowds – although football fans have already been doing this in their tens of thousands.
Freedom Day comes at a time when the government is embarking on a massive herd immunity experiment. A time when the Delta variant is sweeping the country; when our own health secretary has the virus, and when our prime minister is having to self-isolate.
It is ridiculous, although unsurprising, that Johnson and his cronies have the audacity to go ahead with their plan at this critical time. An estimated 468,358 people currently have symptomatic Coronavirus (Covid-19), and this figure doesn’t include all those who are asymptomatic. The ZOE Coronavirus study stated that there has been a 40% increase in symptomatic cases in fully or partially vaccinated people. In fact, ZOE predicts:
With cases in the vaccinated group continuing to rise, the number of new cases in the vaccinated population is set to overtake the unvaccinated in the coming days.
Of course, there’s evidence that being fully vaccinated decreases your likelihood of serious illness, but vaccines clearly aren’t the exit strategy that the government has been spinning to the population. Rather, vaccines need to be used along with the very methods that the government is now abolishing.
A catalogue of dire mistakes
The Canary has extensively covered the government’s catalogue of errors throughout the pandemic. At every stage, Johnson & co have made terrible decisions: locking down too late, or having to go back on decisions to open up.
Back in early 2020, Johnson was reluctant to lock down at all, saying that he shook hands with people with coronavirus. And then during Christmas 2020, the government said it would open up the country for travel for the festive period, but hastily reversed its decision at the last minute for some of the population. After this, they sent children back to school, before the government once again had to change its mind and send them home again. The government’s bad decisions have contributed to the rising cases in the first, second and third waves, and have highlighted that they are incompetent at dealing with the virus.
So all of this begs the question: why on Earth do we think the government is making the correct decision now?
Our government has consistently looked to Israel as a model for tackling coronavirus. But one month after dropping its social distancing and mask rules, the Israeli government has had to admit that its vaccination programme isn’t enough to fight the Delta variant, and may face another lockdown.
Leaving vulnerable people on the scrapheap
It is, of course, those with chronic health conditions who are most affected by Freedom Day, and who won’t be celebrating in a crowded club. For them, the easing of restrictions is terrifying. Lara Montgomery was diagnosed with womb cancer in 2019. She said that she felt a “growing fear” that the virus will spread uncontrollably. She told PA news agency:
I think the terminology of ‘Freedom Day’ is awful, it just doesn’t capture the feeling of the whole country…
For a lot of people… it’s not freedom day at all. People are just going to become too relaxed (and) the situation for people like ourselves… is going to become really frightening.
On top of this, coronavirus is going to cause a new wave of people with chronic health conditions. More than two million people in the UK may have contracted long Covid, and we don’t yet know the full effects. But scientists are learning that long Covid can have devastating effects on the brain. Hospitals have also seen a number of cases of acute Covid injury, particularly among young people, who are suffering with lung and kidney damage.
The Canary spoke to Ed Jones, who has lived with a chronic illness for many years. He said:
As someone with a chronic health condition, I know the devastating impacts it can have on your health, on your ability to work, on your relationships with other people. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, let alone hundreds of thousands more people.
People do not realise how individualistic and ableist society is until they become disabled, how little support there is for disabled people, how difficult it is to get sickness benefits, and how little you get. It can make surviving difficult when you need to rely on benefits for a long time.
The Conservative government has made it more difficult to get sickness benefits: it has put up barriers and you get less. The system is designed to make it very hard to access benefits, which, when you’re ill, is the opposite of what you need.
You’re on your own
Will our government be there for the hundreds of thousands that are likely to get health conditions because of its recklessness? As Jones pointed out, it’s very unlikely. As we continue to be the laughing stock of Europe, who knows what long-term effects the Tories’ decisions will have on society?
The government is, essentially, giving up and letting us all get on with it. Johnson & co are giving a clear message: “You’re on your own. And guess what? It’ll be your fault when it all goes wrong”.
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