By Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns
The vaccination programme has been a huge success. A total of 33,666,638 people have received the first dose, and a total of 12,587,116 people have received the second dose. Because of the vaccination programme, Covid cases have fallen by up to 90 per cent.
New research (based on throat swabbing over 370,000 UK citizens between December and April) has found that one dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine sees a fall of 74 per cent in symptomatic infections, and a fall of 57 per cent in asymptomatic infections. After two doses of the vaccine, those figures rise to 90 per cent and 70 per cent respectively. Wonderful news!
Results announced last month from the U.S. and South American study of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have found that it was 79% efficacious in protecting against symptoms of Covid-19. In the trial, the two-dose shot was also 100% efficacious in protecting people from severe symptoms and hospitalisation from the disease. We should all be rejoicing at this news.
With all of this great news and with deaths with or of Covid at very low levels, why are we not opening the rest of the economy sooner? I appreciate that the Government doesn't want to take unnecessary risks, but the Prime Minister has said that he will be guided by data, not dates. The data could hardly be better. We should be getting on with it now.
What we also need to decide as a country are what levels of restrictions are acceptable in the future. It appears that the Government is receiving advice that when Covid infections rise again from the autumn, social distancing and mask wearing will once again be necessary. Most of the restrictions, we are told, will not be necessary through the summer, but not beyond it. Is it acceptable for mask wearing to become the norm? Are we prepared to tell children that they should wear face masks for over six hours a day whilst they are at school? Will social distancing in pubs and restaurants be with us for years to come? Some businesses may not be viable if that is so. Are we as a country prepared to allow some businesses to go to the wall in order to limit the transmission of Covid, even though because of vaccines the most vulnerable will be protected?
The pandemic is over and the virus is now categorised as endemic. It is amongst us and we have to manage risk. Over recent decades we have become more risk averse. Is the reaction to Covid a symptom of how just risk averse we have become? How frightened as a country are we that we feel we need to lock ourselves away? I appreciate that the law of the land has been changed to make sure we comply with many rules and regulations, but the vast majority of citizens have been happy to give up many freedoms. How long are they going to be prepared to continue to do that?
I know where I stand and will do everything that I can to present alternatives to the status quo; alternatives which manage risk and protect basic freedoms. For those who say that life is going to go back to normal from 21st June; to stop bleating on about restrictions because we are nearly there, I have this message: you are wrong. If the Government wants, it can continue to restrict freedom until September. It has those powers thanks to the extension of the Coronavirus Act. And I wager that those powers will be extended for another six months in September.
Wake up, wake up, it's later than you think.