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    UK’s Freedom Day – Isolation at Chequers and the Political Difficulties for the Prime Minister Johnso

    July 2021

    Monday, 19th July 2021, was Freedom Day in England. It was a day when all of the pandemic measures were finally lifted, a time for rejoicing and a day to acknowledge that things are getting back to “normal”. As If!

    Sure, there were the young and hip who had been pent up for so long, they couldn’t wait to count down the final minutes of social distancing and left their hair down, party like it was 2020 all over again, and drop their masks for a quick snog on the dance floor as the hands of the clocks across England turned midnight.

    But for all that wait, there is worry. At a time when political leaders in the UK were supposed to be making the most of photo ops and celebrating the opening up of business after 18 months of various forms of lockdowns, and restrictions, three of the most senior people responsible for fighting the pandemic were forced into self-isolation.

    Savid Javid, the recently appointed Health Secretary tested positive for the coronavirus. He had been in close contact with Cabinet colleagues including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak then. So, it was little wonder that they too were pinged by the track and trace app from the National Health Service (NHS) working them of the need to self-isolate for 10 days.

    In the week up to July 14, 618,903 people in England and Wales were instructed to self-isolate by the app, which “pings” anyone who has been within two meters of an infectious person for more than 15 minutes. The week after it was 1.4 million people to self-isolate in order to stop the spread of the virus. Imagine then the ire when Johnson and Sunak were both “pinged” but declined to self-isolate, arguing that they were part of a pilot programme that included 10 Downing Street. The very thought that once more, senior government ministers would be telling the British people to do one thing while they themselves did the exact opposite was enough to light up twitter and create a perfect storm that they could not ignore nor endure for longer than three hours.

    As it was, the Prime Minister, who vaunted July 19 as Freedom Day, saw it come from isolating from his country home in Chequers, northwest of London.

    Down the centuries, Britain has generally been lucky in its leaders in times of crisis. In calmer periods, it may not matter much who is normally in charge of a country. But during the last two years of permanent crisis over Brexit and Covid-19, Britain in my opinion has been led by a man of such poor and wavering judgement that it is difficult to find a figure of comparable incompetence in British history. UK’s economy could face a loss of more than 4.6bn pounds (6.3bn USD) in just four weeks if rules on self-isolation following a “pingdemic” from the HHS app aren’t relaxed, according to Data from Centre of Economies and Business Research.

    Britain’s economy already showed signs of slowing in July as euphoria following the easing of coronavirus restrictions eased and a resurgence of the coronavirus caused the “pingdemic” with widespread staff shortages. Britain in my opinion is becoming a pariah state, with the US state Department issuing its highest-level warning, which simply says: “Do not travel to the United Kingdom”.

    And by looking back over the last 18 months, it is in my opinion clear that when it came to taking life-and-death decisions for the country, Johnson would have shown better results if he had relied on the flip of a coin rather than his own chaotic judgment.

    Freedom Day was a day when all restrictions were supposed to be lifted in England. Because health is a devolved power, separate lockdown and coronavirus restrictions apply to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And let’s not forget that Freedom Day, according to Johnson, was only possible because more than 87 percent of adults in the UK had received at least one dose of three vaccinations on offer to all over 18 years of age. At least 67 percent of all Brits have had both doses of the vaccine.

    But high vaccination rates do not necessarily compute with low coronavirus infection rate. The Delta variant, first discovered in India, has resulted in a gradual rise of infection rates in the UK – leading to that “pingdemic”. On the day when Johnson oversaw the lifting of the pandemic measures, some 50,000 cases were recorded across the UK and, worryingly, hospitalization rates were also increasing, surprisingly for vaccinated people as well as for non-vaccinated. The currently biggest risk in my opinion with these kinds of new cases is that a new variant evolves, which might be even more aggressive than the Delta virus and more resistant to available vaccines.

    And please don’t believe that “Freedom Day” means “freedom”. There is a sting in the tail as Johnson already announced that anyone wanting to visit a nightclub from September – no end of restrictions – would have to show proof of being fully vaccinated with both jabs. That measure was already enough to have libertarian MPs in the Conservative ranks howl in outrage that this was a movement towards Covid passports by stealth. And if Johnson was going to reimpose coronavirus measures in one area, it would be in my opinion a very slippery slope indeed to Covid passports being needed to go out for a meal or indeed shopping.

    This great opening up also coincided with another broadside by Dominic Cummings, once Johnson’s chief adviser and right-hand man during those torrid early days of the pandemic. If anyone knows Johnson’s thinking then, it is in my opinion Cummings. In his first TV interview, Cummings said Johnson held out on reimposing Covid restrictions because “the people who are dying are essentially all over 80”. Cummings also revealed that Johnson had been determined to go to see the Queen in person, despite people in 10 Downing Street already falling ill with Covid in March 2020.

    Obviously Downing Street denies the account.

    In WhatsApp messages, that were sent to aides last October, Johnson appears to say: “I must say I have been slightly rocked by some of the data on Covid fatalities. The median age is 82-84 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So, get Covid and live longer. Hardly anyone under 60 goes into hospital (4 percent) and of those virtually all survive”.

    “And I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate.” Let’s be clear: Cummings has its own agenda when it comes to naming and shaming. But he was there and seemingly has the written texts and documents that would appear to support his version of events.

    Freedom Day was supposed to go far smoother. Instead, it seems as if the first lifting of coronavirus restrictions is fraught with political difficulties for the prime minister, isolating at Chequers. It’s in my opinion not quite the image of strong leadership and recovery he wants to portray.