MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: How many more times must we suffer this dimming of the light with Covid-19 restrictions?
The British people could be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a recurring nightmare. Time and again, normality and the customary pleasures of unlocked life seem to be within reach.
Restrictions are relaxed and some limited enjoyment is possible. Schools reopen, up to a point. Time and again these freedoms are snatched away once more, and postponed till heaven knows when. And then it happens again. And again.
How many more times is it going to happen? How many times must we endure being told by the Prime Minister that he is – oh, so reluctantly and with ‘a very heavy heart’ – taking some more of our precious freedoms away, throttling more businesses and cancelling more jobs.
People shopping in Canterbury, Kent, on the last Saturday shopping day before Christmas, after it was announced the county would be placed under Tier 4 restrictions
And for the first time since the 17th Century, a London Government is actually telling us how we may (or may not) celebrate the unique, treasured feast of Christmas. This time it is supposed to be to deal with a new fast-spreading variant of the virus, even though experts admit that its effects are no more serious than the existing one.
Is there any actual end to all this, or shall we be anticipating our next release when a new, completely different virus descends on us and begins the whole cycle again, cancelling next Christmas too?
We have to take these things on trust, and our trust is sometimes abused – as we saw with the dodgy graphs used to justify the last lockdown. For, make no mistake, the measures now being imposed on London and much of the South-East are a return to the most stringent restrictions of last spring.
And who is to say they will not spread quickly into other parts of the country? The Government shows no enthusiasm for toning down its measures, but is always willing to ratchet them up.
We are told that the possible spread of the new strain is so risky that it is worth doing grave economic damage, and more or less suppressing Christmas in the capital, to forestall it. But as so many previous measures have failed to release us from our Covid bonds, why should this one work?
Amidst all these events the one real hope has been the vaccines, an amazing medical and scientific triumph. Millions have been cheered by this development. For a short while it looked as if there was a real growing light at the end of the tunnel.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the Covid-19 pandemic at 10 Downing Street, London, on Saturday
A sign warning shoppers about the risks of Covid-19 can be seen in Bromley, London, ahead of new Tier 4 rules come into place across the south-east on Sunday
But these new limits on normal life dim that light. The experts, and the Ministers who have listened to them, had better be right, because the cost of this is not just to the liberty and happiness of the British people.
The effects of this permanent emergency on treatment of cancer, heart disease and other serious complaints have been severe, and it is very likely that a final audit will show that they have led to many needless deaths.
The impact on mental illness is also very disturbing, especially among the lonely and the formerly healthy old, deprived for months of all the things that gave meaning to their lives.
We can only hope that these measures rapidly have the intended effect, and do not have too many painful unintended consequences.
But Parliament, as soon as it resumes, should submit them to severe examination, and – as we have urged before – Boris Johnson would do well to widen his base of advisers, and consider more carefully the effects of his decisions.
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