Last week marked a year since we first went into lockdown. It was a time to remember those we have lost over the past year and all that we have sacrificed. This past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone, and certainly one we will not forget. But the year has also brought out the best in Britain and I think we have learned things from this pandemic that we will not forget. Though, we are far from being out of the woods. Today, for the first time in months, six people (or two households) can meet outside. Outdoor recreation such as tennis courts can reopen and the official ‘stay at home’ rule will lift at last. But it won’t be until after Easter that we begin any serious opening up. Normality is still a long way away.
As the deadline approached for the existing powers accorded to Government to impose lockdown to expire, Parliament debated last week whether these should be extended. The Government has relied on a mixture of existing and new legislation to enable it to impose the various lockdown measures we have seen in force since January. The Government asked for its existing powers to be extended for a further six months – a period considerably longer than the existing roadmap programme which is expected to end on 21 June this year. All those over 50 and others identified as vulnerable have been offered a vaccination, so as things stand the most at risk have now been vaccinated.
If there were no adverse consequences of lockdown and this infringement on personal freedom could be justified, there would be no issue. But there are consequences of lockdown both in terms of health and wellbeing – and the economy. We still have no assessment of that impact – in normal times no legislation would get through without such analysis. With the risk of infection falling substantially along with the risk of serious ill health, how can we justify the serious damage this lockdown is having on mental health and people’s livelihoods?
While across the country many more businesses will open come 12 April, hotels, restaurants, and the hospitality industry will have to wait. Indoor dining and other indoor leisure activities are perceived as still creating a significant risk of infection. Many of these businesses simply won’t make it. Yet it is these businesses that spent significant sums making their premises Covid safe. This seems to count for nothing. 17 May is the date for their reopening, once the Spring has come and – gone. And the Government is asking for powers to potentially delay all this further still into the Autumn. Worse the Government has refused to rule out another extension of the Act in October when it next comes up for review.
So, given how remarkably well we have done with the vaccine programme – our get out of lockdown jail card – why is this happening? Is it justified? In my view -no! And so, I voted against this extension of power. More than 50% of the adult population and all the most vulnerable have been vaccinated. We know that the first vaccine is the most important providing a significant proportion of the benefit. Of course – anything could happen – but surely if you believe in your plan you extend in accordance with it – not longer. There is nothing to stop the Government coming back to Parliament in June should things change. None of the variants are resistant to the vaccines, we have and can ramp up our own manufacturing capability if the EU persists in its vaccine wars, or even air lift supplies if this war like intransigence continues.
These are extraordinary times – but is it right for a government to take such extraordinary powers - which go to the heart of the freedoms our forebears fought so hard for?
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