Theresa May, Britain’s last Prime Minister, has made a cogent argument against the government’s chaotic policy of blocking international travel.
She makes several good points, including that it was easier for her to travel abroad last year before the vaccine programme than it is now with the vaccine programme having covered so much of the population (at least partly). And also that there will always be Covid variants. If the government is going to react to every new variant by closing the borders that is the end of international travel.
And finally, this:
I think there are some facts the Government needs to be up front with the British people about and ministers need to think a bit more about when making these decisions. We will not eradicate Covid-19 from the UK. There will not be a time when we can say that there will never be another case of Covid-19 in this country … sadly people will die from Covid here in the UK in the future, as 10,000 to 20,000 people do every year from flu.
What she is saying is that now is the time to accept that Covid is the new flu. It is here to stay. It will carry off some thousands of people – mostly elderly or the already very ill, every year. People die. We all die. Get real. Are we going to close down our lives to prevent death?
On one positive note – Covid will probably not be totally in addition to flu. To a large extent it will replace flu as the carrier-off of the weak and infirm. There is no doubt that this has already been happening.  Overall – probably more will die but it will not be flu+Covid. There will be considerable overlap.
The problem seems to be that a group of public officials and public scientists and Ministers are absolutely desperate to avoid a repeat of the tragedies of thousands of avoidable deaths caused by the slow reaction in February 2020. In addition PHE and the NHS is probably rather enjoying being at the centre of everything and controlling everything. Their ICU Wards are nice and empty and they want to keep it that way. In addition they are probably trying to catch up on some of the missed non-Covid treatments (for those patients who haven’t simply died in the interim). And the doctors and nurses are probably having a bit of a breather.
Another factor is simply what to do with all the fear that was engendered by the government as they sought to secure compliance with the various lockdowns. A lot of people are still fearful and want to see ongoing restrictions. The Labour party is opportunistically criticising the government for a “weak borders policy”. People can readily be persuaded to the view that blocking the borders makes them safer. After all, the virus is foreign isn’t it? In reality this is without scientific foundation; variants can and will emerge domestically; unless the borders are 100% sealed then in effect it is just a gesture because the variants will get in; the vaccines have good efficacy against current known variants and are likely to continue to hold up well. It looks like the borders policy is a gesture; they want to be seen to be doing something. It doesn’t effect the charmed groups – Ministers, Crown Servants, contractors for the government, contractors on major infrastructure projects, defence contractors and BBC staff who all enjoy some degree of exemption. Freight is allowed so economic activity is only relatively effected. The chief victims of this policy are the braver souls who want to get their life back to normal and travel abroad for holidays or work.
In another sign of how extreme risk aversion is being bedded in one SAGE scientist has now said that mask wearing will become normal – forever – even to protect against flu. In a way this doesn’t bother me – wearing a mask on public transport is not a huge inconvenience. But where does this degree of risk aversion stop?
Theresa May is spot on: at some point in this we have to take a decision that this is it. Back to normal and accept that there will be continuing deaths from Covid. If not – then there is a dystopian future of permanent restrictions.
An even blunter assessment from an industry figure cited in the Telegraph:
The reopening of travel had been “sacrificed by ministers watching their backs”, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said. “Ministers have fallen into line to protect their future careers and potentially benefit from an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle. And that means sacrificing the early opening of the overseas travel sector. Now thousands of jobs are at risk – as are some airlines and travel firms – because June and July will be lost in travel terms.”