I’ve written open letters to you throughout the pandemic. As we approach the end of what we all hope will be the last lockdown, I want to write to you again concerning some of the rumours and hints that are currently going around.
Over the past few weeks, the narrative has built up that we are likely to see social distancing measures in place for some time to come. This could include restrictions on in door gatherings, the 2 metre rule and mask wearing. Talk in the media is of this continuing until the Autumn or even the end of the year.
It is not just lockdowns that are proving detrimental to our economic, social and emotional well being but the whole social distancing framework. We need a route-map back to full normalityTweet
The continuation of such measures is likely to have a significant impact in a number of different ways. There will be serious economic, social and emotional affects that are likely to be just as dangerous and cause long term damage as the pandemic itself. Those of us who are pastors can testify that we’ve already seen the affects of necessary but difficult measures on people’s lives as well as livelihoods. There are people who have become isolated, lonely and low and this has affected their emotional health leading to a knock on to their physical health. This will bring its own problems for the NHS. I suspect that you are beginning to see the consequences as people are hospitalised for conditions that would have been spotted and treated sooner in the community. This is not just about being able to meet but how people meet. Keeping people at a distance and wearing face masks is not the same as face to face interaction.
Economically, the impact on the hospitality industry of continued measures has frequently been reported on. Furthermore, continued restrictions on places of worship will mean that we are looking at a period of nearly two years when significant restrictions have been in place. The Government seems at times to have missed the point that arriving for a short period of silent prayer before returning home may reflect some religious practices but simply does not capture the essence of evangelical Christianity with its emphasis on joyful singing and mutual encouragement for one another. Rules on mask wearing, social distancing, singing bans and no mingling prove highly disruptive and further more are discriminatory particularly to the cultural styles of worship of some ethnic communities.
I am particularly concerned at the way this narrative is emerging. It cannot be good that things seem to come out by whispers in the media. Furthermore, the impression many of us is getting is that the goal post are shifting. We remember the days when we were told that the aim was to flatten the curve and to protect the NHS. It seems that the move now is to attempts to manage virus transmission at the very point when the risk to the NHS through severe illness, hospitalisation and death has been diminished by the introduction of vaccines and more effective track and trace.
The result of this is similar to the mission creep one sees in war time leading to us getting bogged down into ways of life that it will become harder to escape from. The threat of long term measures without clear explanation and the sense that the finish line is consistently being moved back saps confidence.
Therefore, I would ask three things. First, that the risks verses benefits analysis of any ongoing NPIs are fully assessed and that the results are published. Secondly, please can you work with SAGE and other experts to put a stop to communication by off the record briefing. Instead, please can we have a clear explanation for the Government’s rationale for any measures put in place for the longer term. It is important that we are not just told that you are following the science. We need to see the science.
Finally, please can I encourage you to look carefully at other measures that may further reduce any remaining need for social distancing. I note that there is talk of requiring people to demonstrate that they have either been vaccinated or recently tested prior to entry into some venues. I believe that this makes sense if it means that those venues can function without the need for social distancing measures. I believe that this would be a positive measure for churches too and such measures should be introduced sooner rather than later in the process.
Once again as I close, I want to assure you of our prayers for you and your family, for your own safety through this pandemic, for wisdom for you, the Government, devolved administrations, opposition and civil service to guide us through these unchartered waters and most of all that you would find in Christ true hope and life.