The British Government is in a state of denial. We are in the midst of the worst public health crisis for over a hundred years, yet it is proposing to abolish the public health measures that help to keep those who may be infected with a deadly virus out of circulation. Quarantining people who could infect others is the standard way of preventing a serious illness from spreading, and Covid-19 is a serious illness. The move will also likely mean that many people will feel obliged to return to work when they should still be resting and recovering.
Contrary to much media coverage, the Omicron variant is not mild. Our hospitals are overwhelmed, our doctors are exhausted, and over a thousand people are dying of Covid every week. Millions more get long Covid, even if their bout of Covid was not severe. (In fact, long Covid can result even from an asymptomatic illness.) These horrifying figures are probably an underestimate, given that testing requirements are so much less rigorous now.
Far from relaxing the regulations, the Government should be doing more to manage the pandemic and protect people, especially those whose livelihoods and health have been affected. The self-isolation period should be long enough for us to be sure people are not infected. Public buildings, schools and workplaces should be helped to check and improve their ventilation systems, for example with CO2 monitors and air-filtration systems. Statutory sick pay should be increased to a realistic level and financial support given to all those required to self-isolate or shield. Above all, testing and tracing must be brought back into the public sector to make it more accountable and far more efficient. Testing must be ramped up, with lateral flow tests available free of charge to all who need them, and PCR tests more widely available too. The use of private laboratories means test results often take far longer to arrive than they should. The public sector should be properly funded to process tests.
Boris Johnson should not be appeasing his libertarian back-benchers by relaxing these regulations. His duty is to the people of this country. He has already presided over at least 150,000 preventable deaths. He and his government should be doing all they can to save lives. They should not be burying their heads in the sand.
In Japan fewer than 18,500 people have died of Covid. The country brought its death toll right down through a judicious mix of public health measures. The UK must change its approach now.