Zero Covid UK, which campaigns for maximum suppression (or ‘elimination’) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through standard infection-control measures, including vaccination, condemns the Government’s decision to drop all restrictions on 19 July. What is dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ will in fact mark the start of a further term of confinement for people with disabilities or underlying health conditions, and anyone who lives with them. People who didn’t have their second vaccination by 28 June are also in significant danger, as one vaccine dose provides little defence against the Delta variant. Instead of being protected by their government, these people will face a choice between staying at home and risking catching a deadly virus. The Government is abnegating its responsibility.
‘Personal responsibility’ is not going to end this crisis. A communal approach is needed. Masks, social distancing and hygiene measures need to apply to all of us if they are to work, because those who don’t observe these measures can infect others even if they themselves aren’t in danger. We don’t allow people to drive dangerously; why should we allow them to impinge on the safety and freedom of others during a pandemic?
As the World Health Organization has recently said, the long-term impacts of this virus are not known. It is foolish, irresponsible and unethical to allow infection to spread among children and in other parts of the community. High rates of transmission put us all in greater danger, not only because there is more chance of encountering an infected person (or indeed passing the virus on unknowingly ourselves) but also because the more the virus circulates, the more chances it has to mutate into a variant that resists the vaccines. The Government should be doing all it can to suppress this dangerous virus.
Our key workers will soon be expected to work in unsafe conditions. Too many of them have died doing their jobs already, and if restrictions are eased, they will be expected to work without social distancing and in close proximity to people who might not be wearing masks. Our health-care workers, bus and train drivers, retail workers and others kept society going by working before vaccines were available. They should be protected properly now, not exploited in this way. The vaccination programme needs to be complemented by other measures. A significant proportion of those who have become ill or died had been fully vaccinated. Some people have caught Covid for a second time.
As this pandemic has shown us, the economy is dependent on a healthy workforce. There is no choice to be made between the economy and public health; the economy can’t function normally if our health is in danger. Consumers and the public will stay at home, and with case rates sky-rocketing, increasing numbers of workers will have to self-isolate or take time off because they are ill. The Government only has to look at countries such as New Zealand and Australia to see that there is another way. Their economies are functioning normally. People are not having to test themselves (with unreliable tests) before going to school, university, work or social events, and any outbreaks of the disease are dealt with through short, local lockdowns.
As ever, it is those who were already at a disadvantage who are most in danger from ‘Freedom Day’ – those who live in crowded conditions or work on the ‘front line’, and those with disabilities or underlying health conditions – but ultimately, all of us are in danger, especially if this reckless, irresponsible approach generates a variant from which the vaccines won’t protect us.
Roy Wilkes, secretary of the campaign, said,
This Government cares more about its cronies than about the general public. People are being left to risk illness, disability and death in the name of ‘personal responsibility’, while the Government is bleeding the NHS dry and giving lucrative contracts to companies run by its friends. They’re privatising our National Health Service under our noses. Tens of thousands of people have died of Covid-19, and our death toll is among the worst in the world.
The people of this country deserve better. The Government is taking away our freedom, not liberating us. Suppressing the virus with a range of infection-control measures would free us much sooner.