Boris Johnson will set out his plan to ‘live safely with Covid’ on Monday which, reports suggest, will see the end of all remaining Covid rules in England, including dropping the legal requirement for people who test positive to self-isolate and the ending of free lateral flow and PCR tests.
We have all been learning to ‘live with Covid’ since the pandemic appeared – this is the new normal – but if pretending that Covid no longer exists is the Government’s strategy to live safely with Covid, then this is no genuine strategy at all.
It seems blindingly obvious that reducing the use of tests, especially when infection rates over the last week are still over 46,000 with hospital admissions over 9,000 and deaths within 27 days of a positive test still high at 1,163, is at best misguided, at worst negligent.
Not only will it remove one of the most effective weapons in our fight against the virus, but scientists have also warned that it will compromise the UK’s capacity to detect new coronavirus variants and put lives at risk.
In haste to give the impression that the pandemic is officially over, the Government has apparently conveniently forgotten about the 1.5 million clinically vulnerable people for whom the threat of the virus remains terrifying. Although free testing may still be accessible to this cohort, as well as older adults, it makes it very much more difficult for the family and friends of vulnerable people to keep them safe.
Free and widely available testing was a game-changer this Christmas, allowing many to stay with loved ones safely for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Without free testing, many scientists are voicing their concerns that they will lose sight of the virus. No testing means no information and we lose the most effective way to detect early signs of new variants of concern.
The one certainty is that Covid-19 will continue to evolve. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees the next variant will be milder.
To assume the worst is over is foolhardy. We’ve been here before. Remember when the Prime Minister and the Chancellor spent “Freedom Day”, announced on the 19 July, in self-isolation? There have been over 30,000 deaths from Covid and over 230,000 hospital admissions since that day.
The PM used to tell us that his decision making was guided by the science but Professors Whitty and Vallance have remained conspicuously silent on the Government’s latest plans.
I always thought that it was telling that Professor Van Tam announced he was standing down at the same time as Johnson was signalling that he planned to end restrictions early.
I fear that the Prime Minister’s Covid policy will not be based on evidence but designed purely to fend off a leadership bid.
Ending free tests will disadvantage those who can’t afford to pay for them and introduce inequality and uncertainty into a system that has so far saved many lives. It is unthinkable that health and social care workers might be charged for tests.
Dropping isolation will make working and socialising riskier at a time when infection rates, though falling, are still high.
Covid may one day end up being no more deadly, dangerous or disruptive as colds or flu but we are not there yet.
A successful Covid strategy would recognise a new normal where we maximise our freedoms while recognising that Covid will always be present, rather than fantasising that Covid no longer exists.
We must reframe small mitigations as basic public health protections and continue to recognise that while vaccinations have allowed the majority of us to no longer have to fear Covid, for many of our friends, family and neighbours, Covid is still a matter of life and death.
This is a monthly guest column provided by
Bedford & Kempston Labour MP, Mohammad Yasin.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the
views of the Bedford Independent.