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OP-ED: What is ‘freedom day’ in England?

  • Published at 09:52 pm July 19th, 2021
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks to waiting patients as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Batley

Just the latest example of Covid propaganda

Monday, July 19, is “freedom day” in England.  This is the day that we were promised would end all of the Covid-19 restrictions once and for all. So, no more social distancing, no wearing of face masks, no limits to the numbers of people attending indoor and outdoor events, and night clubs would re-open.

This is the last of four stages of the gradual lifting that began in March. Originally, this final stage of easing was set for June 21, but the government delayed it for four weeks owing to the rising number of cases of the disease.  

When it was first announced, we were told that this was it, life would return to normal, there would be absolutely no curbs on people’s freedoms and there would definitely be no more lockdowns. Ever. Several senior government ministers were asked if they would continue to wear masks in certain circumstances and replied unequivocally that they would not.

Since then, as usual, there has been a row back. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have said that the wearing of masks will be mandatory on all buses, underground, and mainline trains that they are responsible for. 

This rule does not apply though on other network trains. So it is possible to travel from stations outside the capital without a face covering, but once arriving in the city you will need one. People are wondering: If it is OK to not wear a face mask outside of London, why do we have to wear one in the city? Either it›s necessary or it is not. 

This sort of confusion has dogged this country since the start of the pandemic. We have constantly been told to avoid large crowds. At the same time, we have seen on the news that the Japanese government has banned all spectators from watching the Olympics. 

Yet last Sunday, 30 million viewers watched thousands of maskless England and Italian football supporters walk cheek by jowl down Wembley Way (since renamed the Covid Way) en route to the stadium to watch the final of Euro 2020. Who had it right, Japan or England? 

A number of the big supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s have also said they will also insist on the wearing of masks in their stores even though it is no longer a legal requirement after the 19th. The Co-op and Waitrose have declared that it was a decision for “each individual to take.” Again, who has called it right? 

Some consistent guidance from the government is essential to answer these questions over the next few weeks and months. The confusion will only create more potential flashpoints on public transport and in supermarkets and stores. 

The number of serious assaults on shop staff have been increasing steadily during the course of the pandemic. It is not hard to foresee some hapless assistant in one of those supermarkets who are mandating the wearing of masks trying to explain to some confused and angry customer that while it is now not the law it is company policy to wear a mask. Good luck with that, I am glad it is not me doing the telling.

It is true that thanks to the extraordinary roll-out of the vaccine in the UK, the link between Covid-19 and serious illness or death has been severely weakened. But the virus is still with us as it is globally. 

The government’s own modelling suggests that once all restrictions are lifted, 100,000 new cases a day are predicted. Let me repeat that, 100,000 new cases of Covid-19 every single day. Put another way, that is one million people catching the disease every ten days. The population of the UK is 68 million.

When asked recently if he should again delay the ending of restrictions given the rise of new variants of the disease throughout the United Kingdom, the prime minister, Boris Johnson, replied, “If not now, then when?” 

He was right to say that. People are tired of the pandemic and the limits that it has imposed on their personal freedoms. Moreover, unless we return to something like normality the economy is going to continue to suffer. 

But we need some clarity and some consistency from the government, something that has been sadly lacking throughout this crisis. 

Instead of saying, as they did initially, that when all restrictions came to an end, people should use their own best judgement and common sense to decide if they wanted to continue to wear face masks or to socially distance, some scientifically-backed advice or guidelines on what we should or shouldn’t do will help people come to an informed decision. 

Unfortunately, as we saw the other night at Wembley, left to their own devices, a lot of British people don’t have a lot of common sense.

Kit Fenwick is a freelance writer and historian.

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