On 23rd March 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K. would enter into a ‘Lockdown’; a radical move to limit the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. Overnight, the freedoms that formed the cornerstone of British life were severely limited in ways not seen in peacetime before. Yet almost 18-months later, at midnight on 19th July 2021, all mandatory restrictions such as the requirement in England to wear facemasks in shops and indoor settings, capacity limitations in bars, restaurants, and on socialisation were lifted.
This so-called ‘Freedom Day’ proved a gamble for the Prime Minister, with case numbers continuing to rise and hit 46,000 the day restrictions were lifted. However, the reality of Freedom Day seems to have evaded the dire predictions of epidemiologists. Just a week after 19th July, cases per day had fallen by 40% and continue to do so almost a month later.
There have been questions, however, over how accurate the data is on this fall in infections, given that young people are averse to being tested, and the school summer holidays have begun, signalling a pause in perpetual weekly testing. Yet the explanation advanced by epidemiologists is that the high levels of vaccine uptake in the U.K. – the highest in Europe – in tandem with high levels of natural infection, the U.K. has developed some form of herd immunity.
Despite the optimism the data is providing, Number 10 have refused to rule out domestic vaccine passports for use at nightclubs and bars. In fact, Vaccines Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has indicated that individuals will need proof of full vaccination to enter nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues from the end of September. This has been met with anger from the Night Time Industries Association, the body representing such venues who have struggled to stay afloat over the course of the pandemic, and who believe that such a move will exacerbate the decline of the sector further. Others point to the Government’s own Events Research Programme, in which only 28 cases of Covid-19 were recorded out of 58,000 who attended events included in the programme.
The necessity of Vaccine Passports also raises profound questions regarding civil liberties, as it could discriminate against those who choose not to be vaccinated, or who cannot be vaccinated owing to underlying health conditions. Where such passports have been introduced, the reaction from the citizenry and parliamentarians has been equally volatile. For instance, the decision by France to require proof of full vaccination to visit night-time venues was met by large and sustained protests. In Italy, an MP was filmed being chased out of parliament after waving a placard in opposition to the proposed ‘Green Pass’ scheme.
Whatever your view of how the Government has handled the pandemic, thanks to the herculean vaccine programme, it seems that the U.K. is shifting from a pandemic outbreak to an endemic one. Although case numbers are falling at a sustained rate and the Government’s own research trial has shown that large events do not necessarily lead to major outbreaks, come September, when checking your pockets for your wallet, keys, and phone, you may also need to remember your vaccine passport too. As ever, only time will tell…
Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.