From John in Brighton: More Lock-up and Lock-down

19 August

Bonjour mes amis! Relief abounds for the thousands who have successfully retreated across the Channel before the quarantine deadline. Self-isolation in the UK means not leaving a place of your choice which is likely one’s own home but could be friends or family. Is that vigilantly policed? Sky News suggested last week that nine people had been fined at the Border but only one beyond this since its introduction on 8th June. Employers may sometimes make concessions but are under no obligation to do so. My sister is now an Aussie national and is currently over in the UK. Although she lives a little North of Brisbane which is relatively spared of Covid on her return in early September two weeks of quarantine will be mandatory. That’s assuming you get in – some states set strict weekly caps on the number of international travellers. Self-isolation is literally a lock-up spent in a hotel room, no visitors, eat in the room and to boot you pay for it. Employers have no obligation to pay you. There’s no government bail out. Strict but on the face of it logical and importantly effectively saying that the virus is still with us and any complacency is misplaced.

Some returning British travellers are requesting Government compensation where they have lost out following sudden changes in the quarantine rules. Some travel insurance policies booked before 1st March did not exclude Covid but most of those after that date did. Hence travellers would have been informed of this and must have been aware that the virus is capricious, it is a pandemic ie very widespread and possibly worldwide and so pending further outbreaks travel arrangements, restrictions and regulations could change in parallel. It is surely the individual’s decision whether they deem the risk worth taking or not and I’d challenge whether it is the Government’s responsibility to pay compensation even where the rules have unfortunately changed whilst they were on foreign shores. Sure it’s tough. Lockdown has been difficult. People are desperate for a break, a change, a summer vacation before the winter creeps up on us and, God forbid, the possible second wave. But it is still a personal choice where you opt to take that break. This is different to the situation with employment where people were asked by Government to work at home if possible and if not and there was health risk then to abstain with the support of the furlough scheme. The economy is in a dire state, furlough has been relatively generous and is now extended to October and surely we can ill afford adding numerous payouts as a variant of travel insurance. Surely preference  should go to paying those identified by track and trace to isolate, many of whom can’t afford to and hence the low pickup rate.

If there is any Government responsibility I’d point the finger at Boris Johnson who conflates a libertarian ideology with an attitude so positive that it makes Wilkins Micawber look gloomy. He perceives himself as a modern-day Churchill rallying the troops but fails to tick a single box. Do you recall that speech at the end of April when he talked of wrestling the virus to the floor and pressing home our advantage?  We were deemed on track to prevail in Phase 1 of the virus and were moving on to winning Phase 2 like battles en route to winning a war.  Nearly three months later on July 17 you could hear the champagne corks popping up and down the land. Gyms and leisure settings could imminently reopen, by September all schools and colleges will reopen full time, from October sports stadia and conferences and hey pretty much back to normal by Christmas. Music to our ears! I wonder how many people booked a break in celebration.  On the other hand how many Cassandras like me felt this was too much too fast? Then there’s the mixed messages with the ongoing importance of staying alert and maintaining social distancing but the gradual relaxation of lockdown continues …except that from August 8 masks became mandatory in some places notably museums, galleries, cinemas and libraries. On the other hand masks are not mandatory in pubs and restaurants although social distancing is. The Eat Out to Help Out Scheme was used for over 10.5 million meals in its first week and it is hard to think that there would not have been some risk of social interaction as a consequence.

My concern, and I hope I’m wrong is that there is potential sophistry at play. 1. New cases of corona virus and deaths are gradually falling, 2. the pandemic is passing and therefore 3. we can progressively relax the restrictions. The flaw is that the fall is largely due to the restrictions and not despite them. An analogy in my speciality would be to say that many diseases are all but non-existent and so we don’t need immunisations any more – the resurgence of measles with a small drop in MMR uptake shows just how careful one needs to be in distinguishing the chicken from the egg. In the same way Blackburn and Leicester should  be seen as warning shots (to continue BJ’s ridiculous analogy of the virus and warfare) when our guard drops and not as unfortunate isolated blips. 

A firm line, no ambiguity and consistent policies may be more painful in the short term but could reap benefit in the long run.

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