International travel remains burdensome and expensive, many private businesses and transport operators may still require a face covering in order for consumers to avail themselves of their services.
Other than that, it’s game on - back to the start of 2020, a period which seems far longer than a mere 18 months ago.
Britain is one of only a handful of nations to undertake such a move. We are one of the most heavily vaccinated nations on the planet, thanks to the superb work of the NHS and the pharmaceutical industries, both of whom have pulled off scientific and public health miracles. We must never forget their role in this most challenging of times.
We are also home to some of the highest case levels on the planet. Some 50,000 people are currently testing positive each day in Britain, primarily among those aged 11 to 24 according to the latest statistics. Hospitalisations are stable, but rising.
Yet society is being unlocked and, of course, people are unhappy.
As I type there is a protest being held outside Westminster from people protesting against lockdown. Similarly, there continues to be a series of loud voices in favour of restrictions, particularly from the spurious Zero Covid movement who point out that smallpox was eradicated as a virus while forgetting this process took more than 200 years. But let us ignore the extreme viewpoints and look at why, in my opinion, the timing of today’s move is the right one.
Firstly, millions of British workers simply cannot work from home. This is true whether they are a doctor, a fire fighter or a restauranteur. The former two were designated as essential workers but the latter was not and, as such, the hospitality sector has taken a battering unseen even in wartime this past 18 months.
Those restaurants and pubs that reopened in March and April will have, at best, been breaking even during those months. The delay in today’s final phase of unlocking is estimated by UK Hospitality to have cost the sector £3bn.
That is people’s mortgage payments and food shopping bills to feed their children. It is not a ‘nice to have’, it is people’s lives.
I was discouraged to see those young people heading to nightclubs for the first time in many months as midnight on Monday. Social media was full of people condemning their ‘reckless’ behaviour.
These are the same people who have endured the largest sacrifices to their education, employment chances and mental health since World War II. Caution is needed of course but the should not have their youth damaged any further.
The millions of school hours lost this past year to burst bubbles has also been a national tragedy. It must end now.
The likelihood for my money is that Freedom Day won’t make much difference. Those selfish people who have been ignoring the rules will probably continue to do so. Meanwhile those who are more cautious remain as such.
We should also remember that none of this is compulsory. Freedom means many things, including the ability to take risks and make informed choices.
It also carries responsibility and every one of us has to make our own determinations.
Covid is not going away. It pains me to say it but people will catch it, end up in hospital with it and, sadly die with it, not matter what we do.
The question is how do we balance freedom and safety. The issue has become politicised to high levels of toxicity, not helped by the fact that Government messaging has once again been all over the place at times (the isolation fiasco for both the Prime Minister and Chancellor is the latest example of this).
But for now it is up to us to ensure that we do not engage in a false debate about health versus wealth.
Life is a rich tapestry and we cannot have on without the other.
What we need now is confidence and competence.
Let us do what is right for ourselves and our fellow citizens while getting back our lives.
We cannot stay in lockdown forever and it is on us all to make sure we never go back.