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XX Notes: What People Say About ‘Freedom Day’

Published on: 4 Jul, 2021
Updated on: 6 Jul, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational column from a woman’s perspective…

Confused? Cautious? Impatient? Where are your feelings about the end of legal restrictions and government guidelines? From my conversations this week, I’m guessing mixed.

Take my hairdresser. Well not him, double-vaccinated, he’ll be whipping off his mask as soon as the government breathes “relaxation”. He’s impatient. Not so the young girl who washed my hair.

Commenting that I’m looking forward to leaving the face coverings at home, fingers crossed, in a week or so’s time, she was sceptical. “Oh, I think we’ll still be wearing them in here,” she said. Really? You mean you like the Perspex assault course, shouting through the fabric (as if the hairdryers weren’t loud enough) and the “stop, temperature, disinfect” welcome routine?

Or the colleague who, over zoom, looked confused then horrified when I mentioned getting back to face-to-face meetings after Freedom Day: “I think it will be a gradual getting back to normal. Everyone’s got to feel comfortable.”

It’s alarming how relaxed we’ve become with being dictated to.

The government’s “Roadmap out of lockdown” plan

When the government launched the Roadmap Out of Lockdown COVID-19 Response – Spring 2021 (Summary) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) in February 2021, June 21 was a long way off. Believe me, July 19 felt even further away when the Delta variant pushed us off course. But it’s worth revisiting that document as I think many people have forgotten, or can’t quite believe, what it proposed.

The first step was a double date: children returned to school on March 8 and we could meet outside in sixes from March 29. Some sports and travel away from home were allowed.

How not to hug with caution.

The second step was about reopening non-essential retail, libraries, outdoor hospitality and allowing slightly larger gatherings for life events like weddings. May 17 saw larger outdoor and limited indoor socialising – with the windows open – and the opening of high-risk indoor activities like cinemas. We were allowed to hug with caution, perhaps Matt Hancock missed that proviso.

Each of these steps was “guided by data, not dates, so that we do not risk a surge in infections that would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.

We were lucky. Every step along the road to freedom happened as planned, until the last. When SAGE (a now familiar acronym which stands for Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) reviewed the data, the variant first identified in India, was so infectious that cases had soared; a few more weeks were needed to increase vaccinations and check that jabbed vulnerable people weren’t filling hospital beds.

Do we really want to continue with masks?

The rumours – and those infamous government slides – suggest that the vaccine is good, hospitals aren’t overrun, cases have surged but people aren’t needing medical intervention. So why are so many people uncertain?

According to the roadmap’s Step 4: “the government hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact”. To me that means: no masks, no hand gel, no social distancing. Students can return to Tinder, you can hug your granny in her care home, school bubbles can be burst – you can even have a brief encounter on a train.

Nightclubs will open, you can go to a football match, a festival, a funeral indoors – it’s freedom.

Which brings me to another thing people say: “Why can’t I have my wedding/funeral/graduation party when football fans can pack out stadiums? How come a nightclub in Liverpool opened? Why were those celebs partying at the Brit Awards?’

It’s because they were part of the scientific Events Research Programme Information on the Events Research Programme – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Those guinea pigs provided evidence of a negative test and were followed up, so we can enjoy our freedom from July 19. Hopefully.

And if it’s safe for us to be free, why are we not allowed to go on holiday? That’s what people who haven’t booked a UK holiday are asking. I’m not referencing our “Green List” – but the restrictions countries like Italy or Germany have put on us despite the impact of our vaccination programme.

Hospital admissions are not increasing at the same rate as reported new infections.

Although cases in the UK are going up, it’s not resulting in hospitalisations. Remember, it’s not about getting ill, or being bed-ridden for a few days: “we must all remain vigilant … continue to protect the NHS”.

The government have promised that Step 4 is irreversible. That will make some who’ve become accustomed to a controlled lifestyle feel uncomfortable for a while. We have to start LIVING with Covid, not just existing.

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