welcome to ‘freedom day’, or more accurately ‘day of chaos’ – with companies warning they can’t operate because too many employees are ‘pinched’ and asked to self-isolate, and the clinically extremely vulnerable are terrified of leaving their jobs. home for fear that no one wears a mask.
Funny thing is, all this madness was predictable. Because, as the Prime Minister himself said barely a week ago, the growing infections is almost exactly what his epidemiological advisers on Sage predicted.
But the government is behaving like this whole mess is just an accident, one of those things. This was not the case. It was the choice of Boris Johnson and his Cabinet.
They could have absorbed the implications of the infection forecasts made months ago and decided to maintain the mask law a little longer. They opted against.
They might have thought about the risks for companies not being able to plan for staffing levels and turned the infamous pilot, where daily lateral flow testing replaces the 10-day quarantine, into a national prophylactic program.
They did not do it.
They could have forced highly social enterprises, like nightclubs, to admit only double vaxxes or those with proof of a negative antigen test.
They opted for advice and not coercion.It’s almost as if they are shocked that their own predictions of infections have come true, as if Gove the dismissive dismissal of “experts” in the Brexit referendum is a way of governing.
But imagine if the Bank of England said “we have this sophisticated and expensive economic forecasting department, but we’ll ignore what they say and instead set interest rates at the rate we think in our bones is what’s right. for the British ”.
We would all think the governor had lost his mind.
In contrast, Boris Johnson’s MPs seem to believe his political response to his own official predictions is rational.
They wanted the freedoms of today, regardless of the data or the cost.
For what it’s worth, official Johnson forecasters are now saying the daily infection rate could double to 100,000 in maybe just 10 days.
It is likely, they believe, that with the closure of schools, this will stabilize afterwards.
In the meantime, the opening hours of transport and shops will be disrupted, as more and more employees are forced to isolate themselves at home.
And several hundred thousand fragile people will feel like second-class citizens, prisoners at home, because venturing involves excessive risks.
It can get worse.
To borrow a technical term from the Bank of England, the current risk for predicted infections is on the rise.
If the school holidays do not mitigate transmission as expected and if the current doubling rate continues, there could be 150,000 infections in less than two weeks.
That’s what government advisers tell me.
The good news is that these experts always say that because so many of us have been vaccinated, the peak in deaths, even at 150,000 to 200,000 infections per day, would be in the range of 250 to 400 per day. day – so probably less than a quarter of the maximum in recent waves.
And because treatments have improved and people in hospital tend to be younger, the typical length of hospital stay is shorter – so bed occupancy is unlikely to hit the peak of 36,000 seen in France. January and probably wouldn’t be more than halfway, even in the worst-case scenario. Case.
That said, if daily hospital admissions once again hit the thousands a day, which is likely, the NHS ‘horrendous backlog of operations and other corrective work would get worse again.
And by then, the economic cost of a widespread business disruption would almost certainly overwhelm any financial gains made from reopening nightclubs and the event industry.Johnson, at that fateful moment, would he alter or reverse some of our newly restored freedoms?
Perhaps even his most libertarian supporters would begin to question whether the right not to wear a mask on the bus is the moral absolute they thought.To paraphrase it, if not, when?
Listen to our podcast on the coronavirus: