Freedom Day has come and gone, and society has changed.
For many, it is a welcome time where we can take those important steps to return to a more normal society. For others, it is a time of worry and some fear.
Some people have chosen to isolate themselves from normal society more than most and this latest step to relax the Covid-19 lockdown rules will not mean that they return to normal. It is going to take time to adjust and some people will continue to wear their masks when there is no legal requirement and would like more space when out and about. I know that the vast majority of my constituents and people right across England will respect this cautious approach.
For many others, this is a great step forward and they do not want to turn back. They trust the vaccines that our scientists have created in record time, respect the logistical efforts in its manufacture and role out, and now want to catch up on life.
Nightclubs across England opened up at midnight on Freedom Day so clubbers could let their hair down and enjoy a boogie. It is not my scene, so I passed on the chance to join the revellers, but it is a great thing to delight in other peoples’ joy.
For others, the benefits will come over the next few weeks when we can visit friends without making an appointment or, if we bump into an old friend in a pub, we can sit with them and catch up without having to count the number at the table.
More seriously, we need to ensure that GP surgeries and hospitals are fully open so that they can clear the backlog of appointments. My constituents have found it very difficult to get a normal GP appointment and the official hospital waiting list is over five million people. Unofficially, it is reckoned that the waiting list should be twelve million and counting.
This is going to create a huge amount of pressure on the health system and the backlog will take years to get down to normal levels.
The biggest impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns will be on children. They suffer almost none of the consequences of the disease but the worst of the impact of lockdown. We must ensure that, when they return to school in September, their education resumes as normal with no classes or year groups being sent home.
Contrary to some people’s assertions, getting to this point has been a torturously slow process. At the beginning, children returned to school, then, over time, certain shops were allowed to reopen, hospitality had a controlled and limited reopening, sports grounds admitted some fans and now the restrictions have largely gone. It has taken months.
Perhaps the most startling thing about Freedom Day is that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Health Secretary are all being quarantined. The PM, having had two vaccinations and the disease itself, is effectively tripled vaccinated yet still does not have his freedom back. This is a clear as can be that we are not in a post-lockdown era.
In fact, there is a strong narrative being built in anticipation of more lockdowns to come this Autumn. Perhaps the approach to dealing with Covid-19 will be applied to controlling influenza. Certainly, some of the scientists are pushing this agenda.
My question to anyone who intends further lockdowns would be “when does it end if not now?” If lockdowns return in the Autumn then so does the disruption to GP surgeries, hospitals, schools, and businesses.
When will we catch up with cancer diagnosis and treatment? When do children get back to normal and look forward to their futures? When will business owners regain the confidence to create jobs for school leavers? What about weddings?
The Prime Minister is right to take a cautious approach on the unwinding of lockdown. He is right to make it clear that, unless some calamity happens, we are maintaining our momentum on track to have a full return to normal.
We have had a succession of steps towards freedom but the Prime Minister’s isolation means we are not yet at our real Freedom Day.