Not Much Freedom Day

Do you remember how you felt when you had your first anti-Covid vaccination? I had mine on the evening of January 23rd and felt, as I wrote at the time, that the moment should have been accompanied by a full choir, preferably of angels.

It just seemed as if we were nearing the end-game of this terrifying pandemic. The vaccination held out the hope of a return to some semblance of a normal life. I believed, as I’m sure you did too, that a couple of weeks after our second jab we would all be able to completely relax as we were no longer at risk of catching the virus, or serious effect if we were unlucky enough to do so and it was now unlikely that we would end up in hospital struggling to breathe and attached to a ventilator.

And since April I had started cautiously to take a few risks. I’ve been to see ‘The Father’ with the excellent Antony Hopkins in a virtually empty cinema (it was a hot Saturday afternoon). I have been on a few trips by train and underground with everyone around me wearing masks and with no-one sitting beside me. I have been out to lunch and dinner with friends, but again in a Covid secure setting and a couple of times it has been warm enough to eat outside. A trip to the Wimbledon Book Festival on two occasions was in a huge marquee with the side flaps open and great ventilation and with table-seating instead of theatre-style so there was space between the small groups. So, like many of you, I have really been enjoying some freedom to socialise with my family and friends and seek an alternative entertainment to Netflix on my TV.

But today, on July 19th, so-called ‘Freedom Day’, I feel that the cautious freedoms I have enjoyed for four months have come to an end, leaving me bewildered, confused and scared.

The mantra seems to be ‘If not now - when?’ The idea behind this seems to be that Covid in one strain or another is likely to become endemic and we have to learn to live with it. That the economic harm to the hospitality and entertainment industries are all so dire that they must now be allowed to operate without any let or hindrance. That we have protected our most vulnerable with vaccinations, so the greatest risk to life is now at an acceptable level. That hospital admissions are relatively low considering a current infection rate of 50,000+ a day and that the daily death rate is unlikely to climb to anywhere near the 1200 we saw during the last peak. And that everyone is sick and tired of the restrictions and people just want to enjoy themselves and have fun in the sun.

So, in England (but not Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland or it would seem in any other country in the world) from today, we are no longer being mandated by law to take any precautions whatsoever against the virus. We are free to choose to go about our lives maskless, without sanitising our hands and sit, stand, shout, sing or cough next to anyone, anywhere. There will be no limit to the numbers allowed in enclosed spaces including all cinemas, theatres, and restaurants and no need for that place to check your ‘Covid status’ for infection or vaccination. And, for all you ravers, nightclubs opened their doors to hordes of people from midnight last night. And finally, when queuing at a checkout, there will be no need to space yourself so that you are at least 1m distant from the young person in front or behind you who is not wearing a mask and who is very unlikely to be jabbed and may have been at that densely packed club last night.

Honestly, I am in despair. Throughout the past fifteen months I have tried to empathise and occasionally sympathise with those doing what they could to deal with this crisis. The first few months must have been completely overwhelming and terrifying for anyone in a decision-making role including all the various scientists who were advising those politicians who then had to make some really difficult decisions. I can remember the huge relief that I felt when we were finally required to go into full lockdown on March 23rd 2020. As a ‘vulnerable’ 72 year old I was more than happy to stay away from others, have Easter Sunday lunch via zoom as a substitute for a proper family gathering in order to keep myself and others safe and protect the good old NHS.

So to answer what I am sure was a rhetorical question, ‘If not now, then:

  1. When the vast majority of people in this country over 12 are double vaccinated. Because this would significantly increase the protection for everyone and stop secondary schools and universities from being super-spreading institutions. It would also protect against long Covid in the young and healthy.
  2. When people are financially protected if pinged to self-isolate instead of incentivised to ignore it. Testing and Tracing is still the only and best defence we have against Covid infection after vaccination.
  3. When more of the world is vaccinated, so that there is less risk of vaccine resistant variants coming into the country from elsewhere. 
  4. When we can be sure that everyone will voluntarily comply with the ‘guidance’ that they still need to proceed with caution, wear masks, wash their hands regularly and keep a safe distance from others when travelling, eating and shopping.

It seems to me that right now we have the worst of all possible worlds.  A semi-vaccinated population, low vaccination rates worldwide, a rapid and exponential increase in rates of infection here in the UK, and an App which works a bit too well (because infection rates are so high) so that people have started to delete it, ensuring an even wider spread of the virus. I’m sorry to be so downbeat, but Covid is a nasty, unpredictable and capricious infection. Even double-jabbed it might make me seriously unwell, I might need hospitalisation (apparently 40% of people currently in hospital with Covid are double-vaccinated) and I also risk getting long Covid which is estimated to affect up to a million previously fit and healthy people in the UK alone. So, no, this isn’t my freedom day. It’s the day that I will once again question every trip I would love to take, weigh all the risks of doing so with no mandated protections in place, and probably decide that, on balance, I’ll just stay at home.

Tricia x

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Tricia Talk-  Mary Ann Noe, Author of 'To Know Her'

Mary Ann has been writing since she could pick up a pencil, although she jokes that her earliest works could probably line bird cages. She has published fiction, non-fiction and poetry. 'To Know Her' is a novel which asks 'how well do we really know our family and friends?'

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