United Kingdom

Former Minister DR LIAM FOX says Britain can't be a nation of Covid neurotics forever 

The British people have been enormously patient and resilient throughout the pandemic. They have put up with lockdown in all its misery to prevent the NHS being swamped and to stop lives being lost unnecessarily.

They have seen weddings postponed and have been unable to attend the funerals of loved ones.

But the British people are not stupid. They know that the world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learned to live with other viral illnesses over time.

They also know that every passing day of unnecessary restrictions means that lives and livelihoods are damaged or destroyed.

There is, perhaps, no more obvious example of this than the devastating travel ban that has put tourism and aviation on their knees.

As a former International Trade Secretary, it pains me to look at a half-empty Heathrow Airport, one of the world's great transport hubs, and a centre not only of passenger travel but many of our exporting businesses.

As a former International Trade Secretary (pictured in April), it pains me to look at a half-empty Heathrow Airport

We will need these businesses to flourish to boost our recovery and provide the funds to rebalance the public purses that have been so severely hit in the pandemic. In a post-Brexit world, our global connections are more important than ever.

Then there is leisure travel, which needs to open up before it goes bust and before another holiday season is lost.

There is both confusion and anger about the ever-changing traffic-light system, where most can see no logic. Families desperate for a real break from the strain of lockdown have faced chaos as 'lights' change back and forth with very little information given about exactly how the decisions are taken.

Foreign visitors matter, too. Tourism has played a vital role in the British economy and must do so again. Shops, taxi drivers, pubs and restaurants all rely on foreign visitors. And so do the people they employ and suppliers they use.

And don't imagine that foreign travel is all about Mediterranean sunloungers.

In today's connected world, families have been kept apart, often for more than a year. Major life events have been missed.

I saw my own parents last weekend for the first time since Christmas 2019, and that is a long time. For many, the separation has been particularly cruel.

It is now time to start lifting the travel ban – not least because we know the vaccines are working well. Those who have had two doses are at little risk of infection, let alone serious illness, and should be allowed to travel much more freely and with minimal, if any, quarantine when they come home. So far, this covers more than 30 million UK adults.

The British people know that the world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learned to live with other viral illnesses over time. Pictured: Heathrow Airport in May 

Ministers are said to be considering whether to admit 2,000 European football officials for the Wembley final of the Euros on July 11 without subjecting them to the tight quarantine rules that are such a millstone for the rest of us.

If they say yes, the double standard will infuriate the public – and not because the current quarantine regime makes any sense.

Much is made of the need to contain the Indian variant, but it is too late for that. That strain is already the dominant one in the UK and we know from Public Health England that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines can cope just as well with the Indian variant as they can with the Kent variant. Only if a new mutation emerges that renders the current vaccines ineffective would we have to panic, and such a variant is unlikely, given the way that viruses evolve.

Until now, the policies of the Government and those of its medical advisers have been much the same: to reduce the case numbers so that the NHS is not overwhelmed, and to save lives. But the medical profession's responsibilities are not the same as those of the Government.

As a medical doctor by profession, who has also been a politician in charge of an international economic department, I understand these conflicting points of view. It is entirely understandable that the medical profession would want to take any measure, however illiberal, to keep downward pressure on the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

That is what they do.

The Government needs to take a wider view, however, balancing the risks of the pandemic with the need to get our economy moving.

There is both confusion and anger about the ever-changing traffic-light system, where most can see no logic. Picture: Stock

Until now, I have backed the Government at every stage of the lockdown. I was unable to do so last week when it extended the Covid restrictions to July 19 as I did not believe it was justified by the data. We will know within a couple of weeks if the current rise in the number of cases results in a jump in hospitalisations that might once again risk swamping the NHS.

If this does not happen and immunisation rates continue to soar, then the Government should lift the lockdown earlier. It is clearly something that the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Matt Hancock want to see. So do the British people.

We need to get the NHS fully up and running to deal with the massive backlog of cases, including those cancer patients whose unavoidable extra wait will lead to equally unavoidably poorer outcomes. We need to get children back to full-time education and restore our normal social activities, whose disruption I fear will have caused a greater impact on many people than we understand at present.

But we must also start to generate the funds we need to rebalance our public finances, which have taken a drastic hit. And for this we must start to lift the ban on travel.

To talk of closing our borders, as one Government adviser did last week, is to lose the plot.

Such measures would be utterly out of proportion to the level of risk, and even to talk in these terms will frighten people unnecessarily.

 The Indian strain is already the dominant one in the UK and we know from Public Health England that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines can cope just as well with the Indian variant as they can with the Kent variant. Pictured: Science Museum, London, vaccination centre

Those who praise the closed-door policies of New Zealand should consider the huge problem it now faces, along with other nations that have barricaded themselves in.

As Professor Graham Medley, who chairs a key Government advisory group, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, put it last week, New Zealand 'is actually going to have to have an epidemic at some point, unless it wishes to keep its borders closed for ever'.

That is not possible in the real world.

Today, we are in danger of creating a generation of Covid neurotics, whose fear is driven by a bewildering array of scientific advisers, some of whom seem determined to promote their own narrow agendas on Twitter and the broadcast media.

Yet we cannot have a risk-free existence and the cost of even trying to get close to this goal could have profoundly damaging effects on our economy, our society and our people.

The vaccines programme in the UK has been a triumph. It is time to swap fear for optimism. Time to start rebuilding our lives and our economy.

And that means flying once again.

Football news:

In Holland, they believe that racism is everywhere in Russia. I'm explaining: this is no longer the case. The only Russian in the championship of the Netherlands
Manchester United offered 30 million euros for Coulibaly. Napoli refused
Inter was offered to rent Jovic
Barcelona appealed to Juve about the exchange of Griezmann for Dybala (L'Equipe)
The FA has started checking because of the riots at the Euro final: The main thing is that such shameful scenes will never happen again
Justin Kluivert will move to Nice from Roma. The Romans will give him on loan with the right to buy out
Griezmann can put pressure on Barcelona so that his exchange to Atletico for Saul still takes place