Boris Johnson is right.
There, I’ve said it.
After 16 months of making endless terrible decisions during the coronavirus crisis, with the honourable exception of hiring Kate Bingham to run the UK’s brilliant vaccine programme, the desperate-to-be-popular Prime Minister has finally understood that Covid-19 doesn’t care about people’s feelings.
It’s a merciless, cruel, vicious and sinisterly invisible enemy that will do whatever it can to infiltrate our bodies and wreak its horrific damage, especially on the weakest, oldest, sickest and most vulnerable members of our society.
And the only way to defeat it is not with testosterone-fuelled defiant bravado, or screaming 24/7 about how unfair pandemic life is, but by a cold, hard, methodical, data-driven scientific strategy that can outwit this ruthless and horribly cunning enemy.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on the final day of the G7 summit in Cornwall yesterday
I understand why people want their freedom back.
I do, too.
The longer this bloody thing has gone on, the more soul-sapping it’s become for everyone.
It’s just a massive pain in the a*se not to be able to live our lives in the liberated, spontaneous manner we were used to.
But this obsession with June 21 being ‘Freedom Day’ was a doomed and deluded premise from the moment it was spun that way by over-eager lockdown-loathing government and media enthusiasts.
Covid can’t read the papers or watch news conferences.
It doesn’t give a monkey’s cuss what we all WANT to happen.
It just wants to kill and incapacitate as many people as possible and is mutating its way into ever more deadly and cunning variants to avoid being beaten by vaccines.
Right now, it is very clear that we’re on the verge of a deadly third wave of the virus that could exceed even the previous two waves if we’re not very careful.
People enjoy eating outdoors in London’s Soho over the weekend as they make the most of the hot weather
As England’s calamitous cricketers can currently attest, the stats don’t lie.
(New Zealand is kicking our butt on covid and cricket at the moment, thanks in the main to strong leadership and very effective strategies, particularly in understanding the vital importance of a good defence.)
Those stats show a very worrying surge in cases of the Delta, formerly known as India, variant which has now become the UK’s most dominant covid strain, responsible for 90% of all new covid infections.
Cases rose by a third last week to 7,738 and these are just the ones showing up in tests.
Independent SAGE’s Anthony Costello, of University College London, said the true daily infection figure was likely nearer 16,000, and cautioned: ‘In a month you’ll be up to 100,000 new cases a day. If the Government takes a gamble and lets rip like Tory backbenchers want, the NHS will be overloaded. Let’s wait. Let’s stay as we are.’
Here are some more stats for you:
The Delta variant has got a 64% higher rate of household transmission than the Kent (Alpha) variant and is 42% more transmissible outside.
And at the current case rate, it will exceed the highest daily infection number of the entire pandemic (70,000 in January) within a month or so.
Latest PHE data says the vaccines only offer 33% protection against symptomatic infection after one dose.
After two doses, this number rises to 81%, and as high as 95% against serious illness or death.
But PHE warns there is ‘uncertainty around the magnitude of the change in vaccine effectiveness’ after two doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which makes up 70% of all jabs so far administered in the UK.
So, this is a critical moment in the crisis, and we simply don’t know enough about this variant yet to make any confident predictions.
To ignore all this damning data is to stand on the beach as a tidal wave crashes in, defiantly believing everything’s going to be OK and we can still go swimming.
It’s not, and we can’t.
It’s true that our spectacularly successful vaccine roll-out has given us a much better stick to beat back covid, but we’re still not at the levels yet that we need to be for the vaccines to prevail.
To date, 41.3million Brits have had their first jab, and 29.5million have had two.
That means there are still tens of millions of people who are walking around with 33% or less protection against the Delta variant.
And with case numbers now surging at an exponential rate, we could once again be heading for some nasty hospitalisation and death figures very soon with the consequential threat to the NHS.
Yet at the very moment we should be exercising immense caution, based on past experience from being in this same position twice before, the air is full of demands for the arbitrary data-devoid ‘Freedom Day’ to be honoured and threats from people like theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd-Webber to risk arrest rather than obey the rules for a second longer after next Monday.
All the usual suspects in Parliament and the media are roaring their fury at even the suggestion that we delay ‘Freedom Day.’
I understand that fury, and Lord Lloyd-Webber’s angst.
But it’s misplaced.
A rush to unlock everything now will simply accelerate the spread of the Delta variant at a time when we most need to suppress it.
And according to every poll, the vast majority of the British public understands why it’s necessary to wait a little bit longer.
Tory MP Steve Baker, who’s made himself very popular with those who have never seen a need for lockdowns at all, acknowledged this fact but believes the majority view should be ignored.
‘Sooner or later,’ he tweeted, ‘we are going to have to decide if we are content to fumble along like this as a country, imposing severe restrictions that a majority seem to support but which are having devastating consequences on some businesses and some people’s mental health.’
He’s correct to say that lockdowns are ruinous for many businesses, and for many people’s mental health.
We all know this.
But covid has proven to be very bad for economies and public health all around the world. It’s a once-in-lifetime pandemic and this is what pandemics do.
And I simply ask Mr Baker this question: would it be better or worse for businesses and people’s mental health to delay full reopening until we get on top of this Delta variant, or at least know what we’re really dealing with, or risk fuelling the worst wave of the virus to date, with inevitable new full lockdowns to then counter it?
I know which course I prefer.
I feel desperately sorry for all those businesses most badly affected by the ongoing restrictions, especially in the hospitality and airline industries.
This is a brutal time for them, and it must be so disheartening to see other sectors booming again as they continue to suffer.
As I’ve repeatedly said from the start of this pandemic, they need full government support to survive.
But the cold, hard reality is that covid has raised its game with this Delta variant, and we need to raise ours too.
Stand firm, Britain, and we’ll get through this, but only if we show the kind of patience and resilience now that got us through previous dreadful assaults on our liberty like World War 2.
Life at the moment is far from perfect, but for most people, it’s a lot more bearable than it was two months ago.
The sun’s shining, England are playing well in the European Championships, we can to pubs, restaurants, hotels and shops, and stay over with family and friends.
We need to now grit our collective teeth, and dig in.
My grandmother was 19 when World War 2 started, and 25 when it ended.
She went on to live for another 70 glorious years, but never took freedom for granted again.
Nor will any of us when this hellish time is over.
But as Nelson Mandela once said: ‘There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.’
This was a man who spent 27 years in a tiny prison cell for his political beliefs.
We’ve done a comparatively short 15 months in pandemic purgatory, but I believe the prospects of real freedom are nearly upon us if we make sensible unemotional decisions now.
When the number of people double jabbed, with at least two weeks elapsed from the second one, reaches the required ‘herd immunity’ level – and we should be told what that level is – Britain will be in a far better place to ‘live with covid’ as the Freedom Day fighters are begging us to do.
Until that moment, we run the serious danger of undoing all the hard effort we’ve put in.
Boris Johnson made it clear when he announced his 4-part roadmap to freedom that his decision-making would be predicated on data, not dates.
The data is crystal clear.
Order the delay today, Boris, and for once, I’ll be applauding you for doing the right thing at the right time, however much none of us wants it to happen.