An unnamed government minister has warned today that if we delay lifting COVID-19 restrictions on the 21st June, then we will end up with restrictions in place until spring next year. Well, whilst many things are now up and running again, such a situation would be catastrophic for the entertainment and hospitality sector and unpleasant and difficult for churches. But are they right? Of course we are dealing with an unnamed source so this could be a department of health minister with inside information on plans and projections or it could be that he or she Is secretly a top epidemiologist. I personal suspect not.
The basis for their concerns is not data but rather that there are people pushing a “zero COVID” approach wanting to completely eliminate the disease. The minister is certainly correct in that regards. I’ve commented before that there has been such a group of people consistently briefing throughout lockdown that we will need masks and social distancing not just until next spring but for years to come.
However, just because such people exist and just because such noises are made does not mean that they are the ones driving current decisions. Of course, a delay to the 21st June on the basis of such thinking would be catastrophic and in my opinion utterly wrong. However, that does not mean it is the basis. The basis for the current decision is as I argued earlier, concerns about the specific data in front of us now in the context of some key assumptions. I’m not completely convinced all the assumptions are right and that may risk the decision being wrong however, there’s no reason why those assumptions should lead to us having to wait until next Spring before an end to restrictions. You see, those assumptions include the belief that the evidence is showing the vaccines to be working.
Now, here’s the problem. We have two groups of people sitting on the extremes and often unwilling and unable to talk to each other. So views are being polarised. On one side are the doomsayers who think we are still going to see catastrophic numbers of deaths and do want us to live in a semi-permanent state of lockdown. In church life, these are the ones who were telling people that if we re-opened churches last July even in line with guidelines about social distancing, masks and singing then we would be putting lives in danger (they were wrong). On the other side are those who seem to think COVID is nothing much to worry about at all and so we need to get on with things without caution. This group included those who thought we were in sin by not cramming people in and getting them hugging, singing and sharing the communion cup in church back last year. The latter group have stoked things up regarding the 21st June by calling it freedom day and treating that day as make or break.
The reality is that June 21st is not “make or break” freedom day. There will be costs and challenges if we have a further month or so of restrictions but we need to remember two things. First of all, a lot of restrictions have already been relaxed. Secondly the Government’s roadmap always said “no earlier than…” Those dates must surely have allowed some contingency for slippage. The risk with the hyperbole is that it plays on people’s anxieties and that can lead to people experiencing significant despondency and despair when a date is delayed rather than gearing up for a few more weeks.
So, the truth probably lies somewhere away from the scare stories. Yes COVID still presents some risks but also, yes the vaccine is day by day reducing them. Yes it does look like a delay is coming and yes that is going to be difficult but no, June 21st is not the one shot we’ve got at freedom.