'Freedom Day' ringing hollow as Covid cases spiral: Jayne Dowle

Today is supposed to be Freedom Day, when we cast off the shackles of the last 18 months and step forward confidently into the world once more.

Let’s see what happens shall we? If you were planning on going on holiday this week, or even back to the office, don’t pack your suitcase or lunchbox just yet. Especially if you still have the NHS Track and Trace app on your phone.

Thousands have deleted it, and not out of bloody-mindedness, but common sense, that thing that the Prime Minister is always telling us to use. For this hypocritical government fiasco - and we haven’t forgotten about you in that lift Matt Hancock - to reach a new crescendo just as Freedom Day dawns is particularly ironic.

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Chief medical officer Chris Whitty warns that the UK is not “out of the woods yet” and we should all approach the end of most restrictions today with great caution. The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is doubling around every three weeks and could hit “quite scary numbers” if the trend is sustained, he says.

Hundreds of thousands of people are being told to self-isolate as Covid cases rise. Picture: PA

Meanwhile, we’re hearing worse could be to come, with the possibility of an autumn flu explosion which may trigger another potential national lockdown.

That would be a first, at least. Until the coronavirus pandemic tens of thousands of people in the UK died of flu and pneumonia every year and governments hardly blinked. I remember two devastating flu epidemics in the 1990s, when people I knew lost their lives and workplaces were decimated for weeks.

Back then, however, we kept calm and carried on. I know, I know, apart from the fact that it is hugely contagious, coronavirus is not influenza. It’s also a global threat. Millions have died. And it’s still mutating. I think we have all realised it’s deadly serious by now, since our lives have been controlled for 18 months by increasingly bizarre government measures which now seem to have totally lost all sense of logic and pragmatism.

On the one hand the Prime Minister is pressing ahead with scrapping social distancing, including removing the compunction to wear face-masks in public places, unless - it seems – an individual organisation deems it so. If this isn’t a recipe for confusion and yet more aggravation I don’t know what is.

A spokeswoman for the Co-op, which like many supermarkets will support continued use of masks, says they’re not going to actually enforce the policy, highlighting the fear that a strict approach could quickly escalate to a “flashpoint for violence and abuse” towards staff. And on the other hand, we face more threats to our freedom than ever. According to the latest figures available, 520,000 people were told to quarantine last week after receiving a NHS Test and Trace alert on their mobile phone.

As a result, whole industries are grinding to halt. At the Nissan factory in Sunderland, hailed as a beacon of the new post-Brexit Great Britain just a couple of weeks ago after a £1bn investment, at least 900 employees have been ‘pinged’ and are now stuck at home. Supermarkets and logistics companies are warning that staff shortages could decimate the food distribution chain.

Estimates suggest that within a couple of weeks there could be two or three million perfectly-healthy people indoors sitting out the mandatory 10-day quarantine still required if you are found to have come in contact with a Covid-positive individual. Or not.

When I was in town last Thursday afternoon I saw countless families out shopping, mostly mothers with school-age children. Women, as we know, have borne the brunt of the social effects of this pandemic, giving up jobs because it’s simply unfeasible to carry on when daily routines are disrupted at the ping of a phone or a change in government mood.

School quarantines became an absolute joke. Also, I know lots of parents who took their own decision to withdraw their kids for the last couple of weeks of term, because they were fed up of the whole debacle and didn’t want their family to end up in enforced quarantine, especially if a holiday was booked.

Mr Johnson and his ministers didn’t help when they refused to acknowledge what every parent suspects; herd immunity is clearly being pursued, with children as the vectors.

Frankly, we’ve all had enough. You can’t double-jab more than 33 million over-18s, or 66 per cent of the UK adult population, and expect them all to sit quietly at home with no symptoms whilst hundreds of thousands of people descend on Silverstone for a weekend of Grand Prix motor racing.

The fact is, the government lost most of us somewhere around March, when the highly-successful vaccine roll-out began to gather pace. ‘Freedom Day’ and at the same time, a highly-restrictive and seemingly illogical £37bn contact-tracing system condemning millions of people to house arrest is an absolutely toxic combination.

Scrap Test and Trace I say. It was never fit for purpose and it is now causing more harm than good.

And promise, from today, to be honest with us. That alone would mean so much more than any false promises of ‘freedom’.

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