The outcry at the PM's decision has come from familiar quarters
This afternoon saw Boris Johnson’s long-awaited announcement to MPs outlining his plans to lift all remaining Covid restrictions. The move, described as a “living with Covid” plan, sees the legal requirement to self-isolate abolished from Thursday, the end of free Covid testing for the general public from the 1st April, and extra boosters this Spring for the old and vulnerable.
However, the move has provoked a predictable outcry from certain commentators. In an open letter, more than 1000 individuals, including members of independent SAGE, have lambasted the plan to “end testing, surveillance surveys and legal isolation” arguing it has “no solid scientific basis”.
This missive is the latest in a long line of similar letters and warnings, each one issued — like clockwork — every time the government decides to ease restrictions.
Many of the scientists who have signed the latest piece were also signatories of a similar letter last July, which strongly criticised “Freedom Day”, calling it a “dangerous and unethical experiment”. In fact, such was the alarmism that the easing of restrictions in Britain was even described as a threat to the world itself. And earlier in the summer, some of the same commentators warned that if the Government proceeded with the imminent Stage 3 opening, England could see a wave as bad as the January 2021 surge. Needless to say, these dire predictions never came to pass.
Even the recent decision to drop Plan B last month was met with the same ominous warnings, with one member of iSAGE describing how they were “aghast at the haste in which restrictions are being dropped” and urging the government to “reconsider this action”. Since then, both cases and deaths have plummeted.
In fairness, some of the unease towards lifting restrictions may be warranted on this occasion. Testing is important, and we must ensure that those who are elderly or vulnerable have access to tests in order to make clinical decisions, such as whether to begin antiviral therapy.
But what cannot be overlooked is the cost; billions have been spent on both Test and Trace and the now-abandoned testing project Operation Moonshot. This kind of expenditure is not sustainable.
Until we can accept that we are not in a similar kind of situation to two years ago, then we will not be able to move on. That is why the continued fixation on case numbers is unhelpful, and it ignores the importance of vaccines and antivirals which have drastically reduced the rates of hospitalisations and deaths.
But the reflex desire by some scientists to condemn all government policy drowns out reasoned analysis and criticism, and stifles sensible debate. Perhaps such political positioning is an inevitable consequence of the fact that independent SAGE, and its associated group The Citizens, were founded by anti-Brexit activist, Carol Cadwalladr. Science has now become politicised, a situation which will result in inevitable damage to public trust in the future.
Much like the boy who cried wolf, after constant warnings of disaster that never come to pass every time the government attempts to loosen restrictions, is it any surprise that politicians, and the public are beginning not to listen?