Saturday, July 17, 2021

“Freedom Day” or “Day After Tomorrow”?

The day after tomorrow happens to be “Freedom Day,” which, in this week’s headlines, refers to Monday, July 19–the day England moves to Step 4 in its stages of COVID-19 restrictions. Apparently it was the press, not Boris Johnson, who first used the term “Freedom Day” for the move to lift restrictions, but the term has caught on and you see it everywhere, usually in articles warning of grim consequences. Originally Freedom Day was going to be June 21, but Johnson postponed it for four weeks (under great criticism) and now, a month later, the day has again arrived to open things up (under great criticism).

News sources have been rather vague about the details of the four-step plan, which Prime Minister Johnson announced on Feb. 22 in Parliament to calls of “hear, hear” (link below), but as you will probably see a lot of commentary in the next three days, it’s a good time to get some context. Opening up in England where regulations have been defined and enforced in personal life as well as in business is not the same concept as in the U.S. where regulations have been enforced mainly on businesses and public gatherings from restaurants and hair salons to churches and theaters, but not in your home.

The “Rule of Six” will be abolished

For example, we have no equivalent to England’s “rule of six” which states that a gathering in your home is limited to six people from any number of households OR a group of any number of people from no more than two households. Breaking the rules can result in police intervention and fines which are spelled out on the GOV.UK website. The “rule of six” and the rule restricting outdoor gatherings to 30 people will be lifted on Monday, July 19, enabling weddings and other celebrations to return to normal.

Other changes include:

  1. All businesses which were ordered to close can reopen, such as sports stadiums, festivals, and concerts.
  2. Rules about seating and table service in restaurants will end.
  3. Mask requirements will be lifted.
  4. Social distancing requirements will end except in airports or in quarantine after a positive test.

Some precautions will continue, such as:

  1. Testing when symptomatic and in certain workplaces.
  2. Isolating when positive.
  3. Border quarantine for arrivals from high risk countries.
  4. Continuing the vaccination program.

And there are government recommendations to wear masks on public transportation and other crowded areas.

It is important to note that the changes that go into effect this Monday apply to England only. Guidance for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland is separate. Notice too that there is one set of rules for everyone on the UK.GOV website, unlike the CDC website which has separate sets of rules for vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. Not surprising that policies differ between England (population: 55.98 million, 87% of adults over 18 vaccinated) and the United States (population: 328.2 million, 67.9% of adults vaccinated with at least one dose).

According to Johnson’s Feb. 22 speech in parliament, each of the four steps in lifting restrictions will be non-reversible. The purpose is to enable businesses and schools to return to normal operations, to restore commerce and mental health, without fear of reversal. Tracking hospitalizations and deaths will be emphasized over counting cases (positive tests).

What is the controversy? Many articles have pointed out the risks of opening up while the spread of the delta variant brings more cases and more risk of aggressive variants. They point out that Los Angeles has just reinstated its mask policy. Government advisors in Israel, Italy, New Zealand have spoken out against lifting restrictions at this time. Over 1,200 scientists have signed a letter to the Lancet warning of the danger of new variants. (For the full text, see Correspondence, The Lancet, July 7, 2021, link below). In England, people who are immunocompromised point out that this policy increases danger to them. Businesses point out that the new policy puts the burden of requiring masks or distancing directly on them.

I see the lifting of restrictions as a weighing of risks and benefits rather than a right-or-wrong issue. The world is going to live with Covid-19 and the coronavirus for the foreseeable future and we are all struggling with what that means halfway through the second year of the pandemic.

Today’s Notable Headlines

“Lockdown: Boris Johnson unveils plan to end England restrictions by 21 June,” BBC, Feb, 22, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-56158405

“Guidance: (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions: what you can and cannot do,” GOV.UK, updated July 12, 2021. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do#england-moves-to-step-4-from-19-july

“What are the Covid rules from 19 July? Changes to England’s lockdown restrictions after ‘freedom day’ easing,” UK News, July 17, 2021. https://inews.co.uk/news/uk/covid-rules-from-19-july-lockdown-restrictions-easing-after-freedom-day-explained-1105651

“For Some People In The U.K., “Freedom Day” Means Going Back Into Lockdown,” Forbes, July 16, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2021/07/16/for-some-people-in-the-uk-freedom-day-means-going-back-into-lockdown/?sh=3545b59c57ac

“Freedom Day unlocking threatens rest of the world, warn 1,200 scientists,” The London Economic, July 17, 2021. https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/freedom-day-unlocking-threatens-rest-of-the-world-warn-1200-scientists-281698/

Correspondence, The Lancet, July 7, 20212, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)01589-0/fulltext?utm_campaign=lancetcovid21&utm_content=172221470&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&hss_channel=tw-27013292)

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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