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THE nearer we get to June 21, the louder the controversy about whether all major anti-Covid restrictions should be lifted. The Sage and independent Sage panels of experts have counselled against any such relaxation.
The statistics are not very promising. Infection and hospitalisation rates are rising once more in many parts of England, Scotland and — to a lesser extent — Wales. Vaccinations are being rolled out to ever-younger age groups in a race against further infection.
Unfortunately, the growing controversy surrounding June 21 is serving as a serious distraction from the proper considerations that must be made.
Setting arbitrary dates back in February on the road to “freedom day” was clearly yet another entry in the Johnson government’s catalogue of errors during this Covid emergency. It was never a rational decision to switch on an artificial light at the end of a tunnel, without having any clear idea where the end of that tunnel is located.
In doing so, the government buckled yet again to pressure from companies to reopen the whole economy to the more important business — for them — of profit-making. Again, public health considerations came a very poor second.
Thus we end up now in a welter of leaks and speculation about what the government will announce on one specific day in the future, rather than discussing and assessing what needs to happen today and tomorrow in the light of facts on the ground, including scientific advice.
Instead of reassuring millions of people worried about their jobs and their health, fixing a future “freedom day” has raised hopes that may soon have to be dashed.
The government can plead that June 21 was originally named as merely the earliest date on which restrictions might end. Cynics could reply that proclaiming that date — helpfully dubbed “freedom day” by the pro-Tory media — four months in advance beefed up the feel-good factor in good time for the May 6 elections.
However, there seems to be a significant exception to the profit-driven approach of the Tory government.
In another desperate effort to appear to be taking the tough if belated decisions necessary to combat Covid, it has made sacrificial lambs of holidaymakers going abroad for some reasonably priced sun, sand and sangria. Airlines and airports have suffered accordingly.
Instead of operating bans on foreign travel in a timely and rational fashion, the government is playing a guerilla cat-and-mouse game. The “traffic light” system is an inconsistent shambles.
Tourists who travel to Portugal — and in the past to Spain — find that their destination has been changed from “green” status to “amber” after arriving there.
For a family of four, that can mean an extra £2,000 if they change their return flight to scramble back within days to beat the deadline; otherwise, staying for their full holiday could cost them an extra £900 in additional tests when they return and a loss of 10 days’ pay when they go into compulsory quarantine.
It’s been bonanza time for profiteering airline and testing companies.
Most of their victims are parents or retired workers spending their savings or hard-earned occupational pensions. At this rate, holidays abroad will become once again the prerogative mainly of the wealthy.
All the while the blame game played so expertly by the Tories last year continues.
They railed against supposed rule-breaking in parks and scenic spots during the first lockdown to distract attention from their failure to shut down non-essential work. At Christmas, they labelled the public irresponsible and selfish over predictable travel chaos at railway stations caused by their last-minute U-turn on whether people could see their families.
Now rising infections can be blamed on people who booked foreign holidays in full compliance with government guidelines. The left must not fall for this divisive nonsense. The government’s inconsistent, ever-changing and half-baked advice is responsible for the mess we’re in.
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