In March 2020, Covid became a big deal. We faced the very real prospect of more than 1 per cent of the UK population being wiped out within months and our health service collapsing. But 16 months on, we are not remotely in the same position. Mass vaccination has dramatically reduced the level of risk the coronavirus poses, seen in the fact that although society has been reopening since March, deaths from the virus have plummeted and remain very low. Indeed, all those in the nine priority groups for vaccination account for 99 per cent of Covid deaths and have by now received their two doses for maximum immunity.

Now, of course, no vaccine is 100 per cent effective and we certainly have not ‘sent coronavirus packing‘. Some tough times are still ahead. Having said that, we are now in a position where Covid poses the same level of risk to society as does seasonal influenza, and the world cannot continue to revolve around such a relatively minor disease.

So, if I had a magic wand, here’s what I’d do to help us all move forward.

End the Covid bulletin board

It all starts with the media; the institution that controls what and how much people know. Every single news cycle contains the latest Covid figures. This must end.

Mainstream headlines have recently read: ‘UK reports the largest number of infections since mid-January’. This phrasing is completely misleading and utterly irresponsible. The latest figures show that a high level of infections no longer equates to the humanitarian disaster that we experienced in ‘mid-January’. Making that comparison has but one aim in view: to bring back dire memories and create panic.

Every news cycle in winter doesn’t lead with a summary of the number of flu cases. In the same spirit of practicality, news outlets must stop feeding people information that will make them yearn for draconian and unnecessary legal restrictions against a severely weakened virus.

As well as this, our government must have an adult conversation with its citizens regarding the realistic, long-term expectations for this disease. The public must be ready to accept a certain number of deaths and/or hospitalisations every year and in return, the state must ensure that no one who is hospitalised dies as a result of understaffing.

On Freedom: It’s now or never

Of course, there are some, ranging from politicians to scientists, who are against lifting all restrictions anytime soon. Anyone who advocates this position is de facto advocating one of two things: that we either need to keep coronavirus restrictions indefinitely for years to come, or that we do need to lift restrictions, but that now isn’t the time to do it — i.e., that there will be a more appropriate time in the future.

Those who fall into the first category, evidently refuse to acknowledge that the low risk the virus now poses to society is no longer commensurate with the tremendous harm caused by keeping restrictions. And those who fall into the second category, seem to have some delusional view that Covid is going to recede if we just keep restrictions for a little longer. To them, I say: after 16 months of restrictions and the overwhelming majority of the population either vaccinated or immune (those who aren’t are not at high risk), what exactly are you basing this on? And besides, surely if we’re picking the best epidemiological time to unlock, it would be the middle of summer and not autumn/winter, with all the further complications that would bring?

Given this, it is right that the state finally gets out of our social lives. Everyone should once again have the right to meet whomever and however many people they like. No one should be punished for refusing to wear a mask if that’s what they choose. And nobody should be forced into house arrest for 10 days or made to pay an extortionate amount of money to exercise their human right to go on a holiday. We wouldn’t do any of this for flu. Why? Because it only poses a small risk to society.

But this does not mean we should simply do nothing. Those with Covid should be encouraged to self-isolate through financial support to offset their lost income, and Test and Trace should recommend that ‘close contacts’ get tested. If the government is so concerned about new variants coming into the country, they should offer travellers a free test because the burden shouldn’t fall on humble families who work all year to earn a few days away in the Algarve, or the 10 million foreigners (like me) who haven’t seen their family in over a year.

No one forced anyone to get vaccinated and yet here we are, with the highest uptake in Europe. The idea that replacing legal requirements and the threat of punishment with personal responsibility will lead us into Armageddon is nonsense.

It’s time to prove the doubters and the doomsters wrong and finally take the plunge.

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