Yesterday’s lifting of restrictions felt hardly different from any other day since Britain emerged cautiously from lockdown. In common with everybody else, I was still wearing a mask to the shops and keeping a distance from others.
And that’s the way it’s going to remain for the foreseeable future unless the Government shows some guts and does something it seems curiously afraid of – gets tough with people refusing vaccination.
That means telling the young who simply aren’t bothering to have the jab to get vaccinated pronto, and backing it up with curbs on their ability to go out and have a social life if they don’t comply.
The rapidly-increasing number of people taking up hospital beds because they are seriously ill with Covid are younger than during any of the previous waves, and mostly have not been vaccinated. This is the segment of the population that is driving increased numbers of infections and perpetuating the pandemic.
After this coming weekend, when the nightclubs will be open and packed for the first time in 16 months, we can count on a huge upsurge in infections.
There is – probably unthinkingly – an irresponsibility amongst too many young people about having the jab. Unless this is tackled, the country is going to be left limping along in fear of further restrictions having to be imposed instead of being able to put the pandemic behind us.
We need only to look at Israel to see what could happen all too easily here. A country that was a world leader in getting its population vaccinated saw infections brought under control and the economy reopen fully – only for the virus to surge amongst the young who hadn’t bothered to have the jab, causing restrictions to be reimposed.
This autumn could see exactly that scenario in Britain, and that’s why Boris Johnson needs to take a hard line with young refuseniks, even if it makes him unpopular. The deal on offer should be simple – no jab, no social life.
If the Prime Minister is in any doubt of how effective this approach would be, he should look across the Channel to France. There, entry to bars, restaurants and cinemas is denied to anyone unless they have proof of vaccination or a negative test.
When the rule was introduced, vaccination rates amongst the young jumped, with a million people turning up at centres within days. Compare that to what is happening here. Despite invitations to have the jab going out to every adult, take-up rates have slumped from 300,000 a day to about 60,000.
The Government couldn’t have made it easier for anyone to have their jab. There are pop-up centres all over the country.
So far, Mr Johnson and his senior Ministers have been right to rely on persuasion to get the population vaccinated, because compulsion doesn’t sit well with British people and risks fuelling lunatic fringe conspiracy theories about the jab being some sort of means of mass control.
But it’s becoming apparent that too many younger people aren’t open to persuasion and taking the view that Covid is nothing to do with them because they are not at risk from it. Doubtless, there are people of their own age seriously ill in hospital who could tell them different, but the message just isn’t getting through.
Nor is the message about getting vaccinated as a civic duty being heard or heeded. All of us who have had both jabs are aware this isn’t solely about our own health, but being part of the bigger picture of creating mass immunity for everybody.
It is, quite simply, selfish and irresponsible not to have the jab. It holds the country back, and it poses a threat to the substantial numbers of people who are unable to be vaccinated because of underlying health problems.
Yesterday didn’t feel much like a liberation because it only underlined how many difficulties still lie ahead on the road back to normality.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are both self-isolating after being in contact with the Health Secretary, who has Covid, and the ever-escalating number of people off work after being contacted by test-and-trace could see food shortages return because so many staff in the supply chains are absent.
Freedom day felt more like yet another moment of uncertainty, when we don’t know if we’re counting down the days to throwing away the masks and living normal lives again, or if we’re heading for a return to silent high streets and being told to stay at home.
A deciding factor in that is the refusal of younger people to get vaccinated and play their full part in ending this nightmare. That’s why it’s time to tell them that they can forget about a night out on the town if they don’t get jabbed.
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