MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: We’ve de-clawed the Covid monster… now give us our freedom back

MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: We’ve de-clawed the Covid monster – so give us our freedom

The current ‘pingdemic’, in which huge numbers of people are being told to self-isolate by the NHS app on their phones, is beginning to look like a lockdown by the back door.

Many areas of the economy are now being affected by it, as vital workers are instructed to go home for ten long days at short notice.

Today, on the eve of what was supposed to be Freedom Day, there are several other major causes for concern that liberation is still, in reality, a long way off. 

Once again, hopes of easier travel abroad have been dashed by the sudden regrading of France, thanks to fears of the spreading South African, or Beta, variant there.

The current ‘pingdemic’, in which huge numbers of people are being told to self-isolate by the NHS app on their phones, is beginning to look like a lockdown by the back door 

The incessant zig-zagging by the authorities makes planning any sort of family holiday a fraught and risky business.

The enormous cost of the testing needed to travel at all, and the risk of being unable to do a job that cannot be tackled from home, mean many people simply cannot contemplate a trip abroad this year. 

And the official view of face-coverings, in reality, is barely different from what it was at the height of lockdown.

Many may be reassured by this. After so long living under strict controls, when rules were clear and hard, it is often difficult to start making decisions again. 

Some people, beyond doubt, are reassured by widespread mask-wearing. 

But the confinement of uncounted thousands of working men and women at home, ordained by an algorithm, looks like an actual backward step towards the days when we were all told to stay at home unless we had a reasonable excuse to be out.

As well as all the self-isolating workers, there are thousands in different kinds of quarantine after travelling abroad, adding up to a very large chunk of the population.

Yet we are told that a small tweak could greatly reduce the numbers of the pinged.

And even now various supposed essential workers are allowed to avoid self-isolation in return for daily testing (which will not cost them more than £100 a time, unlike the tests holidaymakers must take).

Probably it would be impossible to extend this system to everyone affected, given the numbers who would then have to do the daily testing. 

So an untold multitude are simply deleting the app and taking their chances. Would it not be better if the app was less indiscriminate, and more respected?

Why must we wait until August 16 for those with two vaccinations to be excused from the duty to self-isolate if pinged? 

The Cabinet must worry about many things – jobs, inflation, taxation, the non-Covid aspects of the NHS, education and the general national mood.

Their advisers, by contrast, have only one responsibility – Covid. 

So Ministers face a relentless pressure to keep us under control.

Once, the answer would have been simple – safety first and last, above all. But surely we have de-clawed the Covid monster with the extraordinary success of our mass vaccination programme. 

The most vulnerable are protected as they never were before.

The old fear – that the NHS would be overwhelmed – has been greatly reduced, though it would be rash to claim that it has been wholly banished.

The very limited nature of the freedom we will receive tomorrow will leave many dissatisfied and disappointed. If we are to recover as a society and an economy, Ministers are going to need to be more confident of their own success.