Covid-19
PM Refuses To Enforce Further Restrictions As He Attempts To Prize The Health Of The Economy Over That Of His UK Citizens

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Does the PM’s postponement of Covid-19 restrictions present a lifeline for Service Industry owners or does it preamble a New Year plummet into lockdown?

New Covid cases hit an accumulated high of 320,000 over the Christmas days as the new Omicron variant continues to pick its way through the UK population. Despite England being the only UK Nation without any increased restrictions in place for the holiday period, London is reported to be the most affected region, with an estimated one in twenty people carrying the infection as of last Sunday.

Nicola Sturgeon laid out a comprehensive plan for post-Christmas restrictions in Scotland; from December 26th, one-metre distancing was enforced in public places and capacity limits for both indoor and outdoor events were introduced.

In Wales and Ireland, nightclubs are no longer open, and limitations on the mixing of households and group sizes in certain public places have begun to be introduced.

Meanwhile, yesterday, England’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson did nothing after being presented with the latest Covid-19 data, including the statistic of 113,628 new reported Covid-19 cases on Christmas day – the third-highest record of cases on a single day since the Pandemic began…

Even with this new data of increasing cases, Health Secretary Sajid Javid dismissed fears of any “further measures before the New Year,” saying:

“We won’t be taking any further measures, of course people should remain cautious as we approach new year celebrations […]

“Please remain cautious and when we get into the new year of course we will see then if we do need to take any further measures but nothing more until then, at least.”

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid

The most recent announcements from each of the UK nation’s leaders has underlined their varying relationships between public health safety and the UK economy. Whilst Scotland, Wales and Ireland have paved the way for service sector closures in line with public health statistics, Boris Johnson dodders behind, refusing to enforce further restrictions as he attempts to prize the health of the economy over that of his UK citizens.

Could this be due to the recently uncovered scandal of the 2020 Downing Street Christmas party; has Johnson’s flippant attitude to lockdown measures diminished his ability to make similar restrictions for England as the rest of the UK?

Alternatively, could it instead be a period of grace for service sector owners to secure their prospective economic gain from New Year celebrations, allowing them to prepare for the possibility of a more drastic lockdown in early 2022?

Michael Kill, the CEO of the Night Time Industries Association spoke favourably on the government decision not to impose any restrictive measures in England before the New Year:

“Following an extremely anxious few weeks for our sector, we are pleased that the Prime Minister has listened to us and announced today that no further restrictions will be implemented before the New Year.

“Our industry can now start to plan with some certainty over the next week, and make up for lost time promoting one of the key nights of the year in the coming days.”

Michael Kill, NTIA CEO

However, he also noted the responsibility to public health held by both the Prime Minister and service sector owners:

“It is important that, given this opportunity, we continue to recognise our responsibility to the public health strategy, and urge our customers to not only support us during this period but play their part in ensuring that this is the start of our recovery.”

Michael Kill, NTIA CEO

To conclude his statement, Michael Kill noted the need for a “long term strategy for managing Covid variants” as a matter of collaboration between the government and NTIA, which runs parallel to a wider call for more sustainable business support rather than a stuttering stop/start relationship with Covid-19 restrictions.

Though the Omicron variant is thought to be less specifically dangerous, the high transmission rate of the strain and its ability to escape certain vaccine protection threatens to place a heavy strain on the NHS and wreak havoc on the service sector as workers are forced to isolate.

Tory MP, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown called for a ‘wait and see’ approach with regards to introducing lockdown measures, however it seems that even after the evidence of surging cases, Johnson is still hesitant to react and further damage his already fractured rapport with the service industry.

In her speech last week, Nicola Sturgeon problematized a more complacent approach, saying that;

“Some ask why we can’t wait until we have more data on the impact that Omicron will have on the NHS. I totally understand the temptation to delay [but] we know from experience that if we wait until the data tells us conclusively that we have a problem […] it will already be too late to act.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister

The difference in the approach taken by Johnson and other UK Nation leaders exposes the Tory desire to prize the immediate economic benefit over long-term public health issues which may prove to be short-sighted if the rising cases – that will likely continue to increase with New Year celebrations – force the government to enact more stringent early-2022 lockdown measures.

Though the success in wide-spread booster vaccinations has played a major role in combating the threat of Omicron, the third vaccine installment remains at 70% protection against the virus, which is reflected in the rising cases over the Christmas period.

Hence, although the postponement of restrictions seems like Johnson throwing a lifeline to venue and service sector owners, the milestone of ‘reaching’ the New Year without restrictions may prove to be a fatal decision where mass isolation could throw the service sector into disarray and place unnecessary strain on the NHS.

The UK GDP dropped 25% lower in the April 2020 lockdown than it was in the February of the same year, and whilst the softened measures since then have seen GDP growth, especially between June and August 2021 – the first full month that saw no coronavirus restrictions in the UK – another full lockdown will certainly be the most damaging outcome for the service industry.

The Tories have clearly backed a complacent approach, choosing short-term economic benefits over the long term impact that a reactive approach could have.

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