If you happen to live in England, you will have woken up today on what the UK newspapers have taken to calling “freedom day”: when almost all coronavirus-related restrictions have been officially lifted. I live in London but, to be honest, I don’t particularly feel all that “free”. I’ve just spent the past week at home with my toddler, who was self-isolating due to a positive coronavirus case at nursery (she’s fine). And I’m not alone: the first week of July saw nearly 900,000 people being asked to self-isolate after a surge in cases caused by the Delta variant.
The ripple effect has been tremendous. Health authorities have issued warnings about the number of health workers unable to work due to self-isolation requirements, which is affecting patient care and adding to the backlog of treatment. Union representatives have flagged that manufacturing sites and factories are at risk of closure due to the number of employees unable to make it to work. The same goes for pubs and restaurants, where large numbers of staff have also been pinged with the dreaded self-isolation notice. And let’s not forget, this has all taken place before the lifting of restrictions.
Cases are expected to continue to rise and could reach as many as 100,000 a day. And, with that, the number of people self-isolating will increase in turn. This is obviously necessary to prevent further infections but it also means that a lot of people will be self-isolating who don’t actually need to. While there is a plan to allow children and those who are double-vaccinated to skip self-isolating, it won’t come into effect for weeks. Why the lag time between dropping restrictions and tweaking the rules? Who knows? The fact that the UK government didn’t anticipate the chaos we’re currently dealing with is another example of how it would rather chase meaningless headlines about freedom than actually improve people’s lives.