So, the Prime Minister has announced the roadmap route out of lockdown, arguing that it is a cautious route but hopefully irreversible. Much of what he said had already been leaked in advance and that’s something we keep saying needs to change but is unlikely to. The leaking of actual measures was not helped by the leaking of possible advice and expert opinion which has at times left the country bewildered, fractious and frustrated.
The proposals do look like a step or two forward. Things will start to re-open gradually from next month. It is harder to get things open and moving than it is to shut-down and the 5 week gap between each step is logical. The big positives are the increased acceleration of vaccination and the promise of a movement towards near normality by the end of June. That is as things should be. It balances out the anxiety of some with the impatience of others.
Still up in the air is the question about how long social distancing and mask wearing are required for. This is crucial because if those things are still required at venues through the summer and into the Autumn, it will restrict and hinder churches, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and sports venues for some time to come. That is likely to prove costly not just economically but leading to further deterioration of the social fabric and the emotional well-being of the country. I still work on the view that economic bounce back is likely to be rapid allowing for the normal economic cycle and other challenges that might be there (I remain of the view both that Brexit should not have to cause economic problems but may well do depending on how it is implemented).
However, at least the question of longer term social distancing and mask wearing is up in the air because there seemed to be voices pushing to make that a reality. Hopefully, we will see positive results from the investigations that the Prime Minister is proposing. Personally, I would be happy to comply with a COVID testing and vaccine passport system if it allowed a greater opening up of things though I know there are some who are nervous about the implications of this for privacy and exclusion. I am sure that such concerns are not insurmountable.
Taking a country through a pandemic is no easy business. Looking back, there are things the Government clearly got horrendously wrong. I think the biggies were the failure to secure Care Homes, PPE and some errors of judgement around the first return to schools. There are other things that went badly but we probably had less control over. There are I think mitigating circumstances to our failure to get a comprehensive early test and trace system and if we had been able to secure borders early on that would I believe have been helpful but I suspect by the time we were able to consider that, the virus was already present. The tier system was well meaning but became a bit of a joke given some of the unfathomable ratings and the porous nature of a system that meant we could freely travel between the tiers. I’m glad it is not back.
There have also been some unhelpful things from other quarters. The media has had a shocking time going for a political gotcha approach rather than careful scrutiny and reporting. The abundance of conspiracy theories and the polarisation of commentary into two extreme camps with those practically denying the danger of the virus at all pitied against those who seemed to crave permanent and harsher lockdown. I’m not sure that Christian commentators have always acted helpfully in that regard. The league table approach to deaths makes a mockery of proper engagement with data. How do you really compare two countries where the difference is 2 or 3 per million and there are substantial contextual differences?
I remain grateful that whilst much of the past year and a bit has shocked and bewildered us, it has not done the same to God. He remains sovereign. And so, today our priority again must be to pray. We should keep praying that God will preserve life and protect people, that he will give wisdom to the government and that he will use these dark days for his glory.