Just last Wednesday, the Government announced an increase in Coronavirus restrictions across the country and yet, the mood music is already changing. The 30th December announcement by the Prime Minister declared that an extra 20 million people in the UK would move into the highest set of restrictions: Tier 4. Now, as I write, a lockdown has been announced in Scotland and England. While I fully and completely am in support of particularly tough and vociferous measures to tackle this horrific disease, this yo-yoing by the Government between relaxing and restricting is extremely dangerous. No longer can we count on the Government to actually stick with its word, no policy has an assured life beyond a few days making certainty an impossibility.
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The government five days ago changed the rules, so that only 2,000 people in the UK (all in the Isles of Scilly) could meet outside their bubble inside, or in a garden. In 75% of England, all non-essential shops and services including hair-dressers, gyms and restaurants were forced to close. Worse still, nationally, all secondary schools had to close for a week, while some location-specific primary schools had to do the same. Evidently, the situation was dire and so the restrictions had to be tightened.
The new Coronavirus strain is easily more transmissible and is spreading fast. However, like all Covid announcements since March there were obviously-clear problems with this new guidance, leading to the first U-turn. Some primaries in London (the hub of the new strain) were due to open yesterday, while others told not to open. Some boroughs told to open schools had worse outbreaks than those told to close and the rules completely ignored the fact children crossed boroughs and all over the capital to get to school. On Friday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson closed all the primaries in London.
On Sunday, the PM said that he was ‘reconciled’ to larger restrictions and today said there was ‘no question it had to be toughened’ and he will give a televised address later in the evening. Cases have recently reached their highest ever point, and deaths have climbed back to 500 a day. Yet, the changeability is simply staggering. A third lockdown is now happening and I fully agree large action is needed. But it begs the question, how quickly until they change again?
Just like everyone else, the lack of certainty is deeply maddening. As a University student, I have absolutely no idea what the next few weeks will be like. In December, the Government announced a two-week suspension of returning to campus which I understood, especially considering this New Year spike. Due to a return to in-person teaching on the 25th January, it is very possible a delay will happen again. University College London has already announced such a plan. If that is to be the case, I, like all other students I’m sure, want clarity on when this will happen. We need clear instructions to be ready to make the best of it.
My situation is relatively tame to that of other young people. For example, what of those taking GCSEs or A-levels this year? With already an enormously disturbed year so far, they are still clueless as to whether they will eventually take their exams or not. State school students and those particularly from poorer backgrounds have already suffered greatly compared to those more privileged with months of online learning resulting in lost education. The last thing they need is another late call to cancel exams and another botched alternative grading system.
This spout of U-turns and inconsistency should no longer be a surprise. The current government gained a reputation for exactly this just last year. They flip flopped on free school meals where the Government voted against giving free servings to the poorest children during the holidays before they felt the full force of public opinion and reversed their policy.
Later in June, face masks were not mandatory in shops, then in July they were. On the 15th August, Gavin Williamson said of the A Level exams produced by the notorious algorithm that there would be ‘no u turn, no change.’ Bang on form, on the 17th August, the algorithm was ditched. In September, Government scientists recommended a circuit-breaker lockdown- a quick, few-week national lockdown to slow the virus’s spread. The Prime Minister resisted until the situation worsened greatly in October.
This is the undeniable problem with this government: it makes mistake after mistake changing policy after policy. Amid such a huge crisis as Coronavirus, clear communication and above all, certainty is what is required. But without it, rule-breaking, lockdown fatigue and lack of trust, if it is not already here, is an inevitability. Worryingly, this would of course lead to more cases, just as we begin to see vaccines being rolled out. The possibility of the public losing faith with its Government amid a scale of crisis unseen in decades doesn’t bear thinking about.
Above all else, these u-turns, lack of conviction or forward planning demonstrate an abundance of incompetence. Why this has happened is not fully clear. Undoubtedly, though, there has been pressure from within the Tory party to keep down the restrictions, and a priority of the economy has been seen throughout. The result of this is clear. Poor decisions have been made at the wrong time and precious mistakes requiring costly changes is undoubtedly one of the key reasons for why the UK has suffered so badly economically and socially in this pandemic. I do not doubt for one second the enormity of the challenge of coronavirus. But it is impossible to say this Government gives you certainty nor confidence about the future. They must change to be proactive, rather than reactive to stop the farce of the u turns and steer us to better days again.
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