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23 Feb, 2021 13:23

Boris Johnson’s cautious Covid plan is not a roadmap to freedom, but a never-ending path to permanent restrictions on our liberty

Boris Johnson’s cautious Covid plan is not a roadmap to freedom, but a never-ending path to permanent restrictions on our liberty

Covid’s in retreat and millions of people have been vaccinated, so why not move out of lockdown more quickly? Worryingly, the damaging restrictions are fast becoming an end in themselves – and look like they’re here to stay.

A ‘one way road to freedom’. That is how Boris Johnson described his much-anticipated plan to lift lockdown. But yesterday’s big reveal turned out not to be about freedom at all. The painfully slow pace of change proposed, as well as all the talk of masks and social distancing continuing into the autumn, suggests this is less a roadmap to freedom and more a never-ending path to permanent restrictions on our liberty. 

We know that the rate of people testing positive for Covid-19, the numbers being admitted to hospital and the daily death toll are all, thankfully, plummeting. It’s not much talked about, but coronavirus is on the decline all around the world. Globally, cases fell by 16 percent last week and have been in retreat for over a month. As a result, more and more countries are beginning to open up and let people get on with their lives. Italians can go out to restaurants. Germans can get a haircut next week. French children have been back at school since the start of the year. But here in the UK, we cannot do any of these things. 

According to Boris Johnson’s roadmap, we can, from March 8, sit on a bench, outside, with one other person. We have to wait until almost the end of June before mixing freely with family and friends inside pubs and restaurants. That’s another four long months of soul-crushing loneliness and boredom. Another third of a year with our lives put on hold. Yet more lost income for already struggling businesses. More people made unemployed. More lives shattered by economic devastation.

The government’s incredibly cautious approach to easing restrictions might be justified if coronavirus still posed a serious threat to the lives of the elderly and vulnerable. But, incredibly, scientists have developed not one, but a whole range of life-saving vaccines. What’s more, the UK has had huge success in rolling out jabs to the population. Almost 16.5 million people have received at least one vaccine dose. The groups that account for nearly 90 percent of all coronavirus deaths have now got some degree of protection. 

This is a real success story. We should be celebrating the ingenuity of science in overcoming a potentially-deadly virus and the collective effort required to get so many people vaccinated in such a short space of time. Instead, we are left wondering what’s the point of the vaccine if it does not allow us to get back to normal. Britain is still very much stuck in what has been the toughest, most stringent lockdown in the Western world

It now seems that Boris Johnson had planned to lift some lockdown restrictions a little earlier, perhaps allowing people to meet up with family and friends in a pub beer garden over the long Easter weekend. But he was warned off doing this by his scientific advisers. We urgently need to ask who is running the country. Is it government ministers? Or is it a cabal of unelected scientists? Because, right now, it looks very much as if it is the scientists, with their risk-averse, safety-first, precautionary approach, who are calling all the shots.

Also on rt.com No family, no fun, no respite and no hope: Go-slow BoJo’s roadmap to nowhere quickly just adds to our mountain of lockdown misery

We need to remind Johnson and Matt Hancock that people are more than just data points to be recorded on a chart. It’s no doubt true that if we all stay at home and never see our relatives and abandon all plans and aspirations, then rates of disease will fall. But doing so destroys our very humanity. We are being asked to sacrifice everything that makes life worth living to the end of prolonging our existence. And now, with vulnerable people vaccinated, it seems as if restrictions are rapidly becoming an end in themselves.

Far from the ‘Roaring Twenties’ that some are wishfully predicting, there is a real danger that we get stuck in an age of anxiety, where – scared of each other and wary of the world – we become addicted to lockdown and fearful of freedom. In this context, government ministers perceive no limits to curtailing our freedoms if it is to safeguard our health. Why stop at coronavirus? If mask wearing, social distancing and staying at home prevent people dying from flu, then why lift restrictions at all? If cigarettes, alcohol and sugar contribute to deaths from cancer, why allow people the freedom to smoke, drink and choose their own food? Sadly, this is not wild fantasy but exactly the train of thought some are now pursuing.

We need to celebrate Britain’s vaccine success, and falling rates of Covid-19, by lifting lockdown restrictions far more rapidly than is being proposed. Even more than this, we need to celebrate what makes life worth living: Family, friends, holidays, travel and fun. Right now, we seem to be living under the tyranny of scientists whose precautionary approach has infected government ministers, opposition MPs, and large swathes of journalists. We also have a professional class that, either addicted to fear or far too comfortable in lockdown, has no intention of giving up on restrictions any time soon. It’s time we told these people enough is enough. Freedom is too important to be left to Boris Johnson’s roadmap. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.