Although Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – the UK’s other less populous nations – are also highly vaccinated, only England made the jump on Monday.
From Monday almost all restrictions in England will be lifted. Mandatory masks will disappear, limits on the number of people who can mix indoors or outdoors will end, social distancing will be limited to people who have tested positive for the virus and at airports, and venues. like discos and sports stadiums will be free to open at full capacity.
If someone is screwed up by the NHS coronavirus tracking and tracing app, they will still have to self-isolate until August 16, when double-vaccinated people will be free to continue as usual.
As cases continue to rise rapidly in England, the number of people asked by the app to self-isolate is skyrocketing. In the week of July 7, 520,000 people received the alert, raising concerns about the impact of the program on the economy.
Even Johnson himself has not been spared the tracking and tracing system. Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were alerted after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday.
Downing Street initially announced that instead of isolating themselves, the two would participate in a “daily contact test pilot”, a program that is not available to the general public. However, hours later and following public outrage, officials flip-flopped the decision and said the two would go into self-isolation after all.
This isn’t the first bet the Prime Minister took during the pandemic: he ended a lockdown on December 2 after promising people a normal Christmas, a promise he would ultimately break when he was forced to reimpose restrictions. During the summer of 2020, the government actively encouraged a totally unvaccinated public to return to pubs and restaurants, going so far as to offer financial incentives to do so. And he chose to go it alone and not join European partners in procuring vaccines, a move that initially looked set to pay off as the UK edged out its neighbors by stinging people.
Johnson admitted it would mean coming to terms with ‘ourselves sadly with more deaths from Covid’. But, he added, “if we cannot reopen our company in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when can we? get back to normal. ? “
What could go wrong?
The main beneficiary of the easing of restrictions will undoubtedly be the hotel industry, a major sector of the UK economy. While most hospitality venues scramble to get back to work and earn some cash, removing the restrictions is not without complications.
Kate Nicholls, managing director of UK Hospitality, explained that many sites will impose restrictions on themselves in order to avoid the practical problems caused by the virus.
She explained that “the pings on the application (NHS coronavirus) and then self-isolation” required as a result is the biggest challenge many of these companies will face, as it will exacerbate “some of the labor shortages. existing works on the market. ”
Some sites will only open on certain days of the week or certain hours of the day, which “will impact their ability to recover,” Nicholls added. Frustrating, given that it is now the “first time in 17-18 months that they will be able to break even”.
On top of that, these types of businesses will need to assure customers that their places are safe by keeping measures such as screens between tables, maintaining social distancing and possibly respecting table service, which affects profits. .
Inevitably, returning to something that looks like normal in hospitality will lead to a greater increase in cases, which naturally comes with its own risks.
“Unfortunately, the hospitality industry relies on interacting and meeting people, which will increase infection rates,” said Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading.
Potentially more damaging, Clarke says, is that “with each infection of each person, the likelihood of a mutation increases.” While he doesn’t think that means we’ll immediately see a completely vaccine-resistant variant, he does think “what we’ll see is a gradual weakening of its effectiveness.”
There is also limited data on whether vaccines provide long-lasting protection against Covid. The Office for National Statistics reports that around 1 million people are currently suffering from the disease in the UK. Many have suffered from symptoms like fatigue and brain fog for months.
A vaccine-resistant variant would make a huge hole in Johnson’s biggest achievement of the entire pandemic: a rapid deployment of the silver bullet that stops the disease.
The UK has also experienced a huge mental health crisis during the pandemic. Yet rather for these issues to go away with the lifting of restrictions, there is a chance it could lead to further divisions among the public and cause more anxiety and trauma for people who may already be vulnerable.
“Some people will continue, will continue to wear masks and distance themselves and they might perceive others as selfish for not doing so; those who don’t might view others as overly anxious, ”says John Drury, professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex.
“Solidarity is good for us, social support is good for us and those around us. It will be a source of distress for many people to have this level of conflict,” he adds.
If it turns out badly, there’s a good chance it will backfire on Johnson.
“The public has always been cautious and the rules the government has introduced are often seen as not going far enough and introduced too late,” said Joe Twyman, director of the public opinion consultancy Deltapoll.
He believes that if an increase in the number of cases and forced self-isolation leads families to cancel vacations and spoil their summers, it could hurt Johnson’s popularity.
“If the situation worsens, it could hurt the government’s position, as the perception of how the government is handling the pandemic is so closely correlated with its support. ”
The worst-case scenario for Johnson could be, according to Twyman, if things “turned south”, the question was whether to “stand up or take new steps”.
The latter could be a catastrophic turnaround for Johnson, who said his plan to get his country out of lockdown was “cautious but irreversible.”
Johnson’s pandemic has been a real mixed bag. Presiding over one of the highest death rates in the developed world, a complete collapse of complicated and confusing tests and public messages, he was only saved by a rapid deployment of the vaccine.
Now is the time he finds out if his great vaccine victory was really the saving grace that it appeared not so long ago. If not, he must make a very difficult choice: stick to his line of accepting the death of his own people, or reneging on an icy promise to a nation that has become divided and disillusioned. And if that did happen, he might wonder if taking that bet when the pandemic is far from over was such a good idea after all.