Johnson is doing the famous 50:50 trick - GulfToday

Johnson is doing the famous 50:50 trick


Boris Johnson

The big question that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to answer is, when do you know that you are done with COVID-19, the pandemic that has lasted from the end of 2019 through 2020 and into the second half of 2021. He knows that he must find a practical answer. So, he has decided to lift all COVID-19 restrictions from Monday – July 19 – because most of the country has received the double dose of vaccines. No one need to wear masks, observe social distance between people and not crowd into pubs and stadia.

It is throwing away all the safeguards that have put in place in the last one-and-a-half-years and taking the big risk. Observers are calling it a Johnson’s big gamble. The prime minister has been taking risks ever since the pandemic broke out. In early 2020, he refused to follow the restrictions, and he ended up in an intensive care unit (ICU) but survived the infection. He had no option but to impose strict lockdown last Christmas and New Year, and it lasted beyond Easter in April.

But now he seems to feel that enough precautions have been taken for long enough periods. And it is time to break free. Of course, he did not abandon caution completely. Though Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive, Johnson and Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak refused to go into quarantine, but they changed their mind. It looks like Johnson is doing the famous 50:50 trick, 50 per cent risk, 50 per cent caution, at least in his own case.

The vaccines are supposed to protect the people from dreaded virus. The experts have been hemming and hawing about the mutants, and how the vaccines may or may not deal with the mutants. Johnson has a point that there cannot be an endless wait for the pandemic to end because the experts are also of the view that the virus is not going away and that we will have to learn to live with it. The challenge is to take the plunge and hope that if there is an increase in infections after the opening up, then we must learn to deal with it.

The hope is that the vaccines would prevent critical illness and deaths. The only safeguard that has been put in place is the National Health Service (NHS) App that will monitor and pin the individuals, who then must go into self-quarantine till August 16. The question is whether it is a sufficient safeguard.

The other option is to open the economy gradually, and insist on COVID protocols like masks, maintaining social distance between people, and avoid crowded spaces. But the sense of urgency weighing upon governments is the effect this has on the economy, especially the service and hospitality industry. Half-measures do not help in reviving the economy.

And it will be difficult to keep off the lifting of lockdown until the zero-infection rate is reached, which might take a year or two, or even more. There are no easy solutions. The British prime minister seems to believe that it is better to risk it all. He can always pull back if the infection rates rise rapidly and overwhelm the hospital system. Meanwhile, the experts may want to use a booster shot to bolster the immune system of the people.

There is little doubt that there is a compelling need to end lockdown restrictions and enable people to get back to work and restart their normal social routine. Is the worst of COVID behind us? We would not know until we step out. Johnson has weighed the options, and he seems to believe that it is time to end the restrictions.

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