What does 'Freedom Day' say about leadership?
The government has dropped most of the measures which have reduced the spread of COVID-19 in England. This is happening despite a steep rise in the infection rate due to the Delta variant, particularly amongst the unvaccinated.
The UK has rightly received global praise for its vaccination rollout, but is “freedom day” a masterstroke or a mistake?. Risk taking is part of leadership, but learning from previous errors is also integral to future success.
From 19th July, businesses in England can open ‘as normal’, with no social-distancing requirements, and mask-wearing is no longer necessary in public spaces. Indeed, on the stroke of midnight, some nightclubs threw open their doors, and for the first time in 16 months welcomed exhilarated ravers. The lifting of restrictions is undoubtedly a much needed boost for business generally but particularly for the entertainment industry,
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has taken a more cautious approach. She is maintaining "sensible precautions" while the vaccine programme continues. Scotland has moved to level zero, but mandatory use of face coverings will remain in place for "some time"; limits on outdoor meetings are maintained, and workers' return to offices is delayed.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that face coverings remain mandatory on the capital's public transport systems. Other regional mayors are backing the move, whilst Uber, Ryanair and easyJet will also continue to enforce mask wearing.
Infections in the United Kingdom are now at similar levels to those of last winter's devastating second wave of the pandemic, and rising. Deaths are far lower due to the success of the vaccination rollout, but they too are on the increase.
The loosening of restrictions is "a recipe for disaster", says Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist and associate professor at the University of Leeds school of medicine. He said: "For a government to abdicate itself from responsibility in terms of guiding people, I think that’s just wrong. Because even if the vast majority of people are sensible as they suggest, it only takes a minority to undo that altruism because masks prevent us from spreading the virus primarily."
Has England's population become Guinea pigs in an unprecedented public-health experiment that could result in large numbers of hospitalisations and deaths? Or is this a brave calculated move that will be an example for others to follow?
Only time will tell. The world has its eyes on the UK.