In an interview with this newspaper, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, says that he hopes Covid-19 will become “a treatable disease by the end of the year”, and that thanks to a mix of vaccines and treatments, we can now imagine a path to “freedom and a normal life”.
This goal, of learning to live with Covid, is absolutely the right one – and rational, too, because total elimination of the virus is impossible but so is the prospect of existing in a permanent state of emergency, ready to retreat into lockdown at the drop of a hat. Britain needs a sense of direction, for direction is essential to hope and progress.
The Government’s goal is to offer a jab to about 15 million people by the end of this weekend followed by a further 17.7 million come the end of April, and Mr Hancock is confident that “we can offer the vaccine to all adults by September and hopefully a bit before that”. Despite this remarkable progress, however, some still want to put the brakes on unlocking on the basis that we have to be wary of new variants of the virus and that, having come this far, it would be wrong to throw away the good work by opening up too soon.
But the whole point of vaccines was to make it possible to open up, and having acted to protect the groups we know are most vulnerable, there ought to be a correlating change in the lockdown regime.
Cases and deaths are trending downwards significantly. These, say those who favour easing lockdown, are the metrics that count when it comes to making policy: if policy does not change when they fall, they ask, when will it? The R rate is below one for the first time since July.
The impact upon the economy of the coronavirus and the lockdown has been extraordinary: the worst contraction in 300 years. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, believes that the UK economy is “poised like a coil spring” to recover, but this will require not only supportive government policy, but also a transformation in public psychology.
People need to be able to see a way forward and to plan for it. The pandemic has highlighted a desire for security, no doubt. But, locked indoors, many have also rediscovered their thirst for personal progress, which requires the freedom to take risks.