Last week, Boris Johnson’s “freedom day” came and went with little observable fanfare.

As all Covid restrictions were lifted across the border, the news was scattered with footage of newly reopened nightclubs and their happy, tipsy patrons, and though the sight of so many closely-packed, mask-less people gave me a certain ambient anxiety, I also struggled to blame them for seizing this rare opportunity to be close to other human beings.

What dominated, though, was news of rocketing case numbers and the so-called “pingdemic”, as thousands of people were instructed to self-isolate by the NHS Track and Trace app as a result of those rocketing case numbers, and Johnson’s ill-fated attempt to excuse himself and other ministers from self-isolation when the health secretary, somewhat predictably at this point, tested positive for covid.

Here in Wales, some restrictions remain. Masks are still mandatory indoors, nightclubs are still shut, and there are still limits to how many people we can meet indoors. This comparative caution appears to be paying off – at the time of writing, Wales’ coronavirus case rate sits at 210 per 100,000 people, compared with England’s 529. Nevertheless, cases are still rising, and it’s clear we’re experiencing a third wave of the virus.

That said, the context this time is inarguably different. At the time of writing, roughly 77 per-cent of the adult population in Wales has been double-vaccinated, and 69 per cent in England. While the vaccine doesn’t stop people from catching and transmitting covid, it does make hospitalisation and death less likely, so the sense of urgency that came with previous waves of the disease has become a little muted.

Despite our rising cases, there’s a general sense that we’re in a “post-pandemic” phase. When I go into the office at my day job now, there are actually other people present. A fairground has set up down the street from my flat. There are calls for the Welsh Government to follow England’s lead and announce a “freedom day” of its own. There’s a haste towards normalcy in the air, even if few of us truly trust it.

Personally, I find myself struggling to think further ahead than a month. If I try to cast my mind’s eye forward to September, to Halloween, to Christmas, the picture becomes a haze – a void space with a big question mark slapped on top. The template that most of us have for what different points in the calendar will look like has shifted, I think.

Most obviously, there was the eleventh hour shift in covid restrictions just before Christmas, which cancelled plans and left parents struggling to get in Christmas presents when shops were suddenly closed. There were local lockdowns across the UK last July that cancelled Eid al-Adha plans for British Muslims just hours before the festival began. Nothing feels guaranteed anymore.

The memory of last summer is what now plays on my mind. There was a brief window of stability, during which everyone was encouraged to get out and about through the poorly-judged Eat Out to Help Out scheme. In September I was all the way down in Cornwall on a family caravan holiday, eating fish and chips on the beach, and by October we were under firebreak lockdown.

I want to make very clear that I’m not predicting a further lockdown, nor do I even feel confident that another lockdown would necessarily be the only answer to the current spike in cases. We know now that the past year of social distancing has taken a terrible toll on people’s mental health, particularly for teenagers from lower income households, people with existing mental health difficulties, and those who live alone. It’s evident that a constant cycle of lockdowns is neither desirable nor sustainable.

But it’s also hard to be optimistic, given we’re midway through a cycle that has become far too familiar since last March: Some bombastic, confusing announcement from Westminster on covid restrictions, followed by a flurry of agonising breakfast TV interviews with Cabinet ministers defending the announcement, all against a backdrop of protestations from the scientific community. Then we get a few days or even weeks of general dread, before finally... a lockdown. Or if not a lockdown, some similarly drastic policy U-turn. Those responsible for such chaos, of course, almost always remain in post.


At the moment, it feels as though we’re in the “general dread” stage of that cycle. Just over a week ago, an open letter signed by 1,200 scientists warned that England’s abandonment of all restrictions could lead to the development of vaccine-resistant Covid variants, calling the strategy “a dangerous and unethical experiment”. Others highlighted the UK’s position as a global transport hub, which would mean any such new variant would quickly spread across the world.

While death rates in the UK are nowhere close to those seen in January, hundreds of thousands are currently suffering with “long Covid” – a collection of long-term Covid symptoms that can be debilitating. Meanwhile, the ongoing NHS backlog of previously postponed surgeries and treatments presents a serious capacity concern if Covid hospitalisations continue to rise.

Yes, the Welsh Government has thankfully exercised far more caution than their London counterparts (though let’s not forget that former health minister Vaughan Gething made some eye-watering mistakes on safeguarding care homes last year, and initially refused to mandate facemasks in shops). But devolution or not, we’re tied to the fate of England and the choices of its government. We share an island, we share loved ones, and short of closing our border (something nobody should really want) we are as damned by the ongoing rhythm of failure and impunity in Westminster as the English.

So too are countries of the global south, and to a much more extreme degree. A combination of vaccine hoarding by wealthier countries such as the UK and US, as well as patents that prevent vaccine production in poorer countries, has left huge swathes of the global population unvaccinated and vulnerable. Were a new variant to arise in the UK, it could spread rapidly to largely unvaccinated countries and further devastate their populations.

The pandemic isn’t over, and with the climate crisis just over the horizon, our problems now could well be the blueprint for the next fifty years. Accountability now is essential for our survival. I don’t know about you, but I’d like the future to be a little less of a question mark.

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