Commuters and passers-by wearing protective face masks walk near Tokyo Station amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters
James Moore, The Independent
How “Covid confident” are you? That’s going to become an important question as the UK government presses ahead with its reopening plans – even as health experts warn that they will result in cases ticking up.
We’ve heard a great deal from the deniers, lockdown “sceptics”, anti-vaxx freaks, and right-wing libertarians (who go curiously silent when BLM supporters or women’s groups point out they should have the right to protest, too). They’re a noisy bunch, with noisy allies in the media and in parliament.
We’ve heard rather less from the “Covid cautious”. What do they think about the current policy?
There’s is a more amorphous, layered, and I think, much larger group lacking an obvious rallying cry. It’s also more, well, cautious. Let’s face it, these people are hardly going to take to the streets with banners saying “lock us down”, are they.
Some of them are obviously, like me, seriously at risk from the virus through medical conditions (type one autoimmune-caused diabetes in my case). But there are plenty who aren’t.
Maybe they’ve lost relatives. Maybe they have loved ones still suffering from the debilitating effects of long Covid. Maybe they’ve just been reading about the complications that can come from a close encounter with the scourge. Those can affect young people too, by the way.
All over the UK, the Covid-cautious are now engaged in conversations with friends and colleagues that go something like this: “They want us to come back for a day or two a week. How do you feel about that? I really don’t want to. I don’t think it’s safe. Not yet. How about you?”
These conversations are largely held in private. Covid concern is not something that’s easy to talk about publicly over, say, social media because of the risk of finding oneself of the receiving end of the venom spewed by the witless brigades of Covid deniers.
But the Covid-cautious have other means of making their voices heard, and quite loudly. They may not have been heard in the public conversation, but they could play an outsized role in the economic one.
Employers may be able to compel their return to their workplaces for part – or even all – of the week, but what about their own time? That’s the question on which a lot is riding.
I remember touring non-essential shops after the first lockdown ended. Business wasn’t exactly brisk. Pubs may enjoy a mini-boom in their soon to reopen beer gardens, but will it be sustained?
It’s all very well for the industry’s leaders and lobbyists to cry “let them in, let them in”, but they may end up limiting their markets if they’re seen as too cavalier.
Last summer, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, felt he needed to offer people a bribe to get them out. His “eat out to help out” scheme succeeded in tempting people, but it may have worked a little too well, giving the virus a helping hand ahead of its second wave.
The government has taken a more conservative approach to its roadmap out of lockdown this time, after its own actions in moving too fast last time around led to the recovery being choked off.
It’s hoping that if it can convince people it’s been careful, the wall of money built up by those with disposable incomes will start to be spent when it says it’s safe.
I think it may actually have heard the silent voices of the Covid-cautious, which is why it’s still discussing the controversial policy of vaccine passports, despite angry backlash it has produced and the formidable logistical challenges it presents.
In theory, it’s a measure that could restore confidence. But at best, I find myself torn on the idea.
Part of the reason is: I’m not sure I’d feel good about even a fully passported pub, with the sole exception of the one run by a friend of mine, whom I can trust.
Boris Johnson and co have done precious little to earn the latter, so I’m otherwise inclined to map my own path out of lockdown. It will be quite a bit slower than his government’s. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Thus the silent voices of the Covid-cautious will be heard.
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