Thank you for emailing me about Step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown.
While there has been a rise in coronavirus cases recently because of the spread of the Delta variant, hospitalisations and deaths remain low, and these are the most important figures. The evidence from vaccine manufacturers is that the four approved vaccines are extremely effective at preventing moderate to severe disease from the Delta variant, and with 88% of the adult population of the UK having received one dose and 66% both, the danger to the general public is now minimal. Only around two per cent of those in hospital with the Delta variant have received both doses, and most of the remaining patients are relatively young and are therefore likely to recover.
The old rallying cry of ‘Protect the NHS’ is no longer, in my opinion, justification to continue the restrictions. As my colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg commented last month, the NHS exists to serve the British people, not the British people the NHS, and civil liberties cannot be restricted just to stop hospital admissions. This is to say little of the long-term consequences of lockdown; with about a fifth of businesses yet to reopen and many more unable to operate at full capacity, a delayed economic recovery will inevitably impact tax revenues and, therefore, health and social care funding.
The human cost of continued lockdown is often neglected. While previous steps of the roadmap have, mercifully, alleviated some of the loneliness that has characterised the last eighteen months, life still remains on hold in many ways. Elective surgeries have been cancelled, and the NHS waiting list is now at an unprecedented five million people. Young people, for whom socialising with their peers is essential for their development, are developing anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Businesses have uncertain financial futures and many of those which are allowed to open are operating at a loss. The situation of emergency has passed, and the Government no longer has any business interfering with such civil liberties as how many people you can host in your home, who can sing in church, or whether newlyweds can dance inside or outside.
That extends also to face coverings. Creating a criminal offence of failure to wear a face covering was always an authoritarian intervention in people’s lives, which could only be justified with the invocation of an emergency situation. Now that the emergency has passed, people should be free to wear one as they please. I understand that Ministers were also shown research which demonstrates that a mandate to wear face coverings would cost hospitality and entertainment industries £4 billion in lost revenue. Nevertheless, the Government strongly encourages people to wear face coverings in certain situations, and I am encouraged by recent polling that suggests many will continue to do so as a matter of habit.
Thank you again for contacting me.