So that’s it. Covid has been crushed, relentlessly needled to an inglorious defeat. It will forever be known as the great pandemic of 2020-22.
Last week the final restrictions on our daily lives, from masking up to self-isolation after testing positive, were all scrapped, and free tests for most of us are set to end on April Fool’s Day. That may well turn out to be in tune with the date but I very much doubt anyone will be laughing on 1 April, especially those who need to visit someone who is vulnerable to infection but have to pay to find out if they are potentially lethal Covid spreaders.
To me, ending basic restrictions and free tests looks carelessly premature. Others might call it criminally negligent given that Covid figures continue to be high. On the day I wrote this there were 41,130 newly confirmed positive tests in England, making 302,204 for the week. The same day there were 205 Covid deaths.
Compare that last figure with the 102 deaths recorded on 23 March 2020, the day we went into that first national lockdown. Doesn’t it strike you as even a little bit terrifying that the government is prepared to accept a death rate double that which pushed the country into the most severe restrictions ever seen in peacetime?
In one month you can have a free test on Thursday 31 March and find out you have got Covid, yet legally go out pubbing and clubbing on the Friday, or party like the Johnsons without fear of having to fill in a police questionnaire.
Spare a thought – although I won’t – for the friends of Conservative cabinet ministers like Michael Gove and former health secretary Matt Hancock who were awarded a total of £1.6 billion contracts to supply personal protective equipment to the NHS without having to go through the normal channels. For them, that particular gravy train is heading for the buffers.
The important question is, what is fuelling the government’s bonfire of the virus restrictions? It surely can’t be the picture painted by recent Covid statistics, which as I highlighted above are still dire. And there has been no thumbs-up from doctors. In fact, the opposite is the case, with the chair of the British Medical Association, Chaand Nagpaul, pointing out that scrapping restrictions was not based on current medical evidence. “It would be damaging to the health of millions, including for those who go on to suffer long Covid symptoms,” he warned.
Even the government’s own pandemic modelling group says that tests, self-isolation and mask-wearing have reduced Covid transmission by between 20 and 45 per cent. That’s an awful lot of lives saved by the measures now being scrapped.
Instead, we are told to “live with Covid” simply because Johnson has caved into pressure from head-banging MPs on the Tory right who never believed in restrictions, whose support he needs to weather the Partygate storm, and who are demanding huge spending cuts to fund tax giveaways.
Hard on the heels of the announcement of ending free tests, Boots said it would start charging £5.99 a time. For people already strapped for cash by soaring inflation and energy bills that is yet another crippling blow, and for many it may be too much. Thousands will die in order to save Johnson’s neck.