To end all Covid restrictions now is foolhardy
“Learning to live with Covid” must not mean “living as if Covid does not exist”. The cavalier attitude being flouted by ministers towards the virus is simply foolish.
We can all be relieved that, at long last, we finally find ourselves in a position of relative security compared to when the pandemic first hit our shores. The high vaccine uptake is allowing us to retain many of our freedoms despite the presence of the Omicron variant. And, of course, we would not be in this position had it not been for the dedication of our NHS and the ingenuity of the scientific community. Thanks to them, it is now clear that learning to live with the virus is the next inevitable phase of the pandemic. And I, like many, look forward to a time where holidays can be booked without the lurking fear of lockdowns.
However, while most will welcome a feeling of relief and reprieve after two years of heart-breaking family tragedies and plans put on hold, we must also remember that while cases have turned a corner, they still remain high, with thousands being hospitalised weekly at the moment. The least we can expect from the government is that they exercise vigilance and caution on the road to recovery. It may be the least we can expect, but even that might be too much for Johnson and his cabal. As we have seen repeatedly throughout this pandemic, I fear that the government is once more preparing to make a serious public health decision in the interest of short-term political expediency.
The government is leaving us vulnerable to a continuous and unknown number of cases, and therefore long-Covid cases too
Testing continues to play an important role in helping people to live their day-to-day lives, keeping businesses running and keeping children in school. The move to strip away access to free tests will not only hinder individuals’ ability to manage their own and their family’s risk but threatens to reinforce divisions within the UK.
For many, but especially for those who are, or live with, someone who is clinically vulnerable, a lack of access to testing for the wider public could mean life-threatening danger. Dropping free testing all together will create a chasm between those who can plough forth with living with the virus and those who simply can’t, to create such a split would be deplorable.
Making people pay for testing would also reinforce a division that has been in our society since the beginning of the pandemic. Similar to those who could afford to self-isolate and those who could not, and between those who could work from home and those who could not, making testing the preserve of people with means is morally bankrupt. To do so during a cost-of-living crisis is even more so.
This decision will also leave both the public and scientists flying blind. Allowing free testing to remain in place, especially PCRs for those who are symptomatic, would give the government some indication of how the virus is behaving and changing within the UK. Reducing testing substantially would mean that any measures implemented to control a future outbreak would be akin to closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted. It would also leave us blind to any future variants, risking the undoing of so much of what has been achieved through the sacrifice of everyone who obeyed the rules and of our hard-working frontline workers.
Despite the government's apparent insistence on steamrolling ahead with dropping even the most reasonable and minor protections, recent YouGov polling supports the view that the public know that the virus has not and will not simply disappear. They aren’t buying into the idea that we can live with Covid by downplaying its prominence.
There will of course come a time when we need to live with coronavirus but dropping all precautions with no scientific or medical basis is foolhardy. Dropping them when the risk of new variants persists and when long-Covid continues to cause shortages in vital public services is, at worst, negligent.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has heard first-hand the devastating impact long-Covid continues to have on the lives of millions of people up and down the country. By having no gauge of case rates and virus outbreaks, the government is leaving us vulnerable to a continuous and unknown number of cases, and therefore long-Covid cases too. The impact of this will continue to be felt for generations to come.
Any living with Covid strategy needs to allow British people to live their lives secure in the knowledge that the government has all the information required to keep our country safe. Unfortunately, I think most are afraid that this government is asleep at the wheel.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus.
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