In the Prime Minister’s four-step road map out of lockdown that he’ll announce on Monday afternoon, there will be a fundamental shift in the government’s philosophical approach to Covid-19.

You may not notice the shift over the din of airlines, and pubs and clothing retailers complaining that the PM is taking too long to let them trade again, or over the noise of teachers and their trade unions accusing him of putting them at risk from reopening all schools in a big bang on 8 March.

You may also be distracted by keen anticipation of being able to mix with another five people out of doors at the end of March, or planning a blissful game of five-a-side football in the park.

But for all Johnson’s caution in reopening the economy and society – a caution driven by his visceral fear of a possible fourth lockdown – he will make clear that he believes the pace and efficacy of the vaccination programme means the balance of economic and wellbeing risks is tilting PERMANENTLY in favour of giving us much (if not quite all) of our old way of life back.

This is perhaps a subtle point. But it is significant.

It is implicit in the four tests the government has set for opening up society and the economy at due dates in March, April, May and June. The point is that not one of these tests is exclusively about the rate of infection of the virus, the famous ‘R’, on its own, but instead they are:


1) whether the roll out of the vaccine remains on target

2) whether the vaccines are reducing hospitalisations and deaths

3) whether there is a surge in infections that risks an associated surge in hospitalisations that would overwhelm the NHS

4) whether new variants land or develop here that escape the efficacy of the vaccines.


In other words, infections could start to rise but society and the economy would still be reopened, so long as the vaccines are doing the job of keeping symptoms mild and sufferers out of hospital.

One year on, the government is saying we have to find a way to live with the permanent risk of this illness without shutting ourselves in our homes.

To put it another way, Johnson is saying he will tolerate a base level of infections, hospitalisations and deaths that don’t undermine the ability of the NHS to do its job.

It is worth thinking about that policy change. Because make no mistake, there will be Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths for years to come.

What matters, as I am expecting the PM to concede tomorrow, is that even with completion of the vaccine programme about half the population will NOT be protected.



This lack of immunity for half the population stems from an estimate that 20% of adults won’t take it, the vaccines won’t work on between 10% and 20% of us, and the vaccines are not authorised for use on those under 18.

So in the expected scenario, the one on which government planning is based, Covid-19 remains with us as a real and present danger, though won’t be threatening to fill up every available hospital bed, and won’t be killing more of us than flu does.

So how we deal with this threat will increasingly become a personal choice rather than one for government.

Speaking for myself, I am likely to want to live my life in a way that minimises my risk of getting Covid-19, even if for the UK as a whole it’s not the danger it was.

My behaviour will probably change permanently as a result of this crisis, and I doubt I will be alone.


Categories:

Tags:

Comments are closed