Freedom demands a price

By Simon Gentry

The first chink of light in the lockdown dark has emerged and for parts of the country it coincided with warm sunny weather, an enticing foretaste of summer. The government are keen it play it down, eager to remind us all to be careful and not get carried away.

“Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called,” the Prime Minister said.

Based on past performance, it is likely that the public will, in the main, listen to the advice – although some newspapers will no doubt find evidence to the contrary in the days to come, especially as the pubs begin to re-open.

99% of those who died or we very ill came from the cohorts that have now been vaccinated with at least the first dose.  Second doses are now rising fast, well over 3 million have had theirs.  In more good news, daily death rates are falling fast, and are often in two rather than three digits.  Indeed, London has just recorded no Covid-related deaths in 24 hours, the first time that has happened in six months.

This success however raises difficult issues for Ministers.  Issues that Tory backbenchers are raising with increasing urgency.  They ask why, if the rate of serious illness and death is falling, and few if anyone is dying, the public and the economy needs to remain locked down.  Their frustration, and the frustration of the hospitality sector upon which millions of people’s jobs depend, is palpable.

And yet the inner core of ministers dealing with the crisis remain resolute that the speed of the unlock will not be increased. That being the case, the only alternative would be some kind of proof that the individual patron is immune or has had a test and is not infectious.

The idea that there is some kind of national ID or passport is an anathema to most Conservatives, and most of the Cabinet seem to have been filmed making passionate denouncements of the idea in the dim and distant past.  Now, however, given the circumstances it is difficult to see how they can move the country back to normal without some kind of document to prove immunity.  If people are vaccinated and are immune, they will demand their freedom back.

The consequence of this dilemma is playing out in the media as ministers and officials fly kites to work out how the public will react to the various ideas being considered.  In parallel, technology companies are devising various solutions to prove that a person is safe to be let into an enclosed space.  They too are fuelling the growing media tumult.

Despite the anguish we will no doubt witness from MPs and the media, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that our way back to freedom will not be via an app that proves you’ve been vaccinated or had a test immediately prior to the event.