Government’s reasoning for relaxing Covid restrictions

The relaxation of further Covid restrictions on 19 July is by far the biggest piece of news this month.

Normally I try to avoid focusing on a single topic in these newsletters, but this is so important.

So, why is it that the government has decided to move to step four of its roadmap for Covid recovery?

The government set itself four tests to pass before relaxation of the rules should take place.

The first test was a successful vaccination programme; this test has clearly been met.

More than 80 million doses of vaccine have now been given and by 19 July every adult in the UK will have been offered a first dose.

But the important fact is that nine out of ten adults in the UK now have Covid-19 antibodies.

The second test was what impact the vaccination programme is having on hospitalisations and deaths.

Public Health England estimates that two doses of vaccine provide 96% protection against hospitalisation for all the current variants of the virus.

So, while the link between catching Covid-19 and having to go to hospital has not been totally broken, it has been massively reduced.

The third test was whether the likely infection rates would still put unsustainable pressure on the National Health Service.

To answer this test requires use of scientific modelling, a tool that has been immeasurably improved over the past 18 months as scientists have learnt more about the virus.

The models suggest that, while daily cases may increase to as many as 100,000, the effect of the vaccines mean that this will not result in an overwhelmed NHS.

To my mind, this is the hardest of the tests, since increased case numbers will lead to increased deaths, as well as more people suffering from the effects of long Covid.

But we need to remember that continued restrictions are also having serious negative health impacts, even ignoring the continuing economic and social damage.

Domestic violence cases have risen dramatically; mental health issues, particularly among the young, have risen sharply; and illnesses such as cancer are going undiagnosed.

Covid-19 is never going to be totally eradicated. So, given that we cannot keep on maintaining these damaging restrictions forever, the best advice is that we take advantage of the summer weather to relax conditions now rather than wait until the autumn, when additional cases would then combine with winter illnesses to make matters worse.

The fourth test is that all these risks are not fundamentally changed by a new variant of concern.

We need to remain on our guard against a new strain emerging that is either more transmissible than the Delta variant or able to evade the vaccines.

To protect against this the increased vigilance at our international borders will be maintained, as well as further resources being poured into genomic sequencing capability, so that new strains can be identified as soon as they emerge and dealt with.

None of the above is without risk, but the same is true for continuing with restrictions that have caused terrible damage themselves.

If we all continue to be responsible in our personal decisions, we can play our part in the country being able to live with a virus that will never be eradicated but can be controlled.

These are some of the hardest judgement calls a government can be called upon to make, but I hope this explanation helps to set out the thinking behind the decision making.

If there is anything I can help you with, please get in touch via email. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or via my website.

Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland