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The Stooshie Diary: ‘Freedom Day’ farce shows we have a lot of growing up to do on Covid

When I was a little boy and wouldn’t eat my vegetables, my parents would force me to sit at the table until I was finished.

My mum recently revealed how she had to change those tactics as I got older and the stubbornness – actually, let’s call it tenacity – that has served me well as a journalist made her sure I would be happy to sit there until the next morning rather than give in.

If this third wave of Covid cases and the debacle over our ill-fated push towards some semblance of normality in recent weeks has taught us anything, it’s that Britain is the island that refuses to eat its vegetables.

In case you missed the memo, ‘Freedom Day’ came and went in England on Monday as Scotland prepared to enter ‘level zero’, the lowest-tier of restrictions on the Scottish Government’s five-level system.

Boris Johnson promised an end to compulsory face coverings.

It came, ready or not, as Covid cases soared across the country, amid a warning from the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser that daily hospitalisations could rise “quite a lot higher” than 1,000, and as Americans were advised to stay away.

Boris Johnson had the unenviable task of welcoming the so-called Freedom Day during a live televised briefing – a bit like the guy at the party waving his arms to try and keep the fun going long after everyone else has decided they would rather just go home.

Of course, he had to be beamed in live from his country retreat after being pinged on Freedom Day Eve, along with chancellor Rishi Sunak, as a close contact of health secretary Sajid Javid – who had earlier tested positive for Covid.

All totally normal stuff as England moved forward just hours away from what the prime minister had earlier described as a likely “irreversible” unlocking of the very restrictions brought in to stop the virus from spreading out of control.

Level zero

If, like me, you live in Scotland, you will be relieved to know we have now entered level zero, which was described by Nicola Sturgeon, as it was introduced in October, as the closest to normality possible until an effective vaccine or treatment can be found.

Since then, the vaccine programme has moved forward apace but because of the spread of the seemingly more transmissible Delta variant, the reality of level zero is very different from what many of us had hoped.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon receives her second dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

If level zero is the closest to normality we can achieve, even with vaccines, most would not have imagined it would come with restrictions on indoor meetings, limits on weddings and public events, curfews on hospitality, and nightclubs shut.

Opinion polls show the public agree it is right to remain cautious with case numbers so high but it would be hard to argue the messaging from both the UK and Scottish governments has been anything short of atrocious.

If Freedom Day and level zero were our goals, our end points, rather than just empty slogans, then where do we go from here? There isn’t much point having a “route map” that ends before you arrive at your destination.

No clear path

I remember speaking to Nicola Sturgeon during one of her daily briefings in the early half of last year as the Scottish Government’s first route map out of lockdown – the one that was subsequently abandoned – was published.

There was no clear answer at that stage in any of the phases for when grandparents who live in a separate household from their young grandchildren – those too young to realistically physically distance – would be able to pick them up and hug them.

Still now, more than a year later, there seems to be no clear idea of what the final endpoint of this pandemic will look like or where the road ahead is leading.

I’m a journalist so thankfully it’s not my job to tell you how we get ourselves out of this mess but it is my job to tell you what others are saying and doing about it.

As it happens, others – specifically 1,200 international experts – warned this week that Boris Johnson’s move to end many of the previous restrictions poses a “danger to the world” as it amounts to a policy of “herd immunity by mass infection”.

The group of scientists, who signed a letter to The Lancet warning against the prime minister’s plans, fear the reopening will allow the Delta variant to spread rapidly around the world.

The warning came as more than 50,000 cases were recorded on Friday, the highest since mid-January, along with a further 49 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Our new reality

The growing number of hospitalisations and deaths, along with warnings about the dangers of long Covid – people still suffering months after first testing positive for the virus – are a reminder that vaccines alone are unlikely to provide a route out of this.

In Scotland, we have given up on our previous goal of eliminating the virus – something we were described as being in a “strong position” to do last summer. Scientists now believe our new reality will mean living with Covid.

The truth is there will be no true Freedom Day or full stop to this pandemic until case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths are brought under control and as many people as possible receive a vaccine.

The sooner we achieve that, and eat our proverbial pandemic vegetables, the sooner we can get up from the table and get on with our lives.


The Stooshie

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