Last week, in developing my analogy with World War 2, I talked about the yearning amongst so many people to ‘get back to normal’ and how, in World War 2 for what was a significant part of the population, that yearning for normality involved NOT going backwards to as it was before but moving forward to a new normal.
What we don’t know at the moment is how many people experienced the crisis in such a way as to yearn for a different, let’s say fairer, future and how many still yearn for the past (with all its faults).
My next few posts will explore different dimensions of that issue to try and tease out some view of what might happen.
But there is a prior question with which to wrestle.
People look back at the war and recall two days – VE (Victory in Europe) and VJ (Victory in Japan) days. Those were the days when the enemy was defeated and the dying would stop. Relatives will remember the catharsis of those days. Rationing and hardship would continue for years – but the dying stopped.
Will there be a similar day when we will be able to go back to (or forward to) normal at any time in 2021? Will there be a day this year when the dying will stop?
And I think the answer is no.
It’s true that the vaccine provides some light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel, the whole tunnel, is a lot longer than some hope for.
Let’s work through the vaccination timetable.
If all goes well 15 million will get their first dose by mid-February.
We – for I am one of this 15 million – will then need our second dose by, at the latest, mid-May. If the NHS is able to keep up current speed of flow for that 3 months they would probably give out 30 million jabs. That means by mid-May, only 15 million new people will have been vaccinated.
So every 3 months, as the year progresses, half the vaccinations are given to those who have had one previously and there are only 15 million new vaccinations.
So how will immunity look by mid-May? By then 70 year-olds will have been vaccinated and that will – fingers tightly crossed – mean that the infection rate (and the death rate) amongst over 70s will have dropped very considerably.
However amongst those in work – say the under 65s – only 10 million or so will have had one jab and have any immunity from the vaccination.
Which in turn means that if – by mid-May – the Government want us to go back to living a normal life – only a small proportion of the working population will have any immunity through vaccination.
I’ll return later to what that might mean for ‘opening up’. But roll forward this timetable – 30 million jabs every 3 months – and the second vaccine for all of the adult population will be completed by mid-November.
This will take a lot of patience from us all. I am pretty sure the problem is that the majority of the British people have more patience than the Government.
In looking at how normality returns, the problem the nation has is whether the Government in 2021 is capable of learning the lessons from the mistakes of the Government of 2020.
In 2020 the Government failed again and again to lock down the country quickly enough. It’s possible that in 2021 they may repeat this mistake – but the other way round. This year they may, in their desperation to ‘get back to normal’ open up too soon.
The vaccination timetable I outline above shows that any form of vaccination herd immunity will take many many months to develop. But the Government, in yearning for the freedom that they wrongly think we need, may well remove restrictions too soon.
On 6 January 2021 Matt Hancock gave an interview with the Spectator. The magazine reflects, along with the Daily Telegraph, a clear opinion within the Conservative Party that is at least sceptical of the value of lockdowns. The Secretary of State therefore may be playing to the gallery in this interview. But within the Conservative Party this yearning for freedom is a big gallery
In a recent interview with James Forsyth Hancock says,
“The goal is not to ensure (that we vaccinate the whole population before that point) it is to vaccinate who is vulnerable. Then that’s the moment at which we can carefully start to lift the restrictions’” But at that point the majority would remain unprotected. Would he – as Health Secretary – still say it’s time to abolish the restrictions? “Cry Freedom” he replies.
(Interview with Matt Hancock, Spectator 06/01/2021)
I know politicians play to the gallery – but the idea of the Secretary of State for Health saying “Cry freedom” when only the vulnerable have been vaccinated is very scary. After all he is the cabinet minister who is meant to be looking after our health.
He is not alone in his view. The Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps – interviewed by on Talk Radio by Julia Hartley Brewer – said he would “join (her) on the barricades to get our freedoms back”
The reality is that part of the Conservative Party is more concerned with abstract notions of freedom (why in the summer of 2020 did the pubs open before the schools?), than with any regard to the epidemiology of the virus.
The day before I am drafting this post a record 1600 people have died of Covid.
The vaccination will save us but only if the Government has the patience to give it the time to do so.