Were Covid restrictions dropped too soon?

‘Living with Covid’ is already proving problematic – just look at the travel chaos this week

People queueing
Passengers queueing at Manchester Airport on 5 April
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The plan to begin “living with Covid” sounded great in theory, said Charlotte Lytton in The Daily Telegraph. In practice, though, it’s proving problematic – as anyone who has tried to take a trip abroad lately will be all too aware.

Covid-related staff absences caused massive delays at airports this week, and the cancellation of hundreds of flights. And with Covid case numbers at an all-time high in the UK – almost five million people are estimated to have the virus – other sectors are also struggling to function.

Offices and schools are facing continuing disruption, and the NHS is feeling the strain as admissions and staff sickness rise. In a further sign of how far we are from living in a “post-virus world”, the NHS updated the official list of Covid symptoms this week to include nine new symptoms, including loss of appetite, feeling tired, achey or sick, or having a sore throat or headache.

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Covid is a long way from being “over”, agreed Christina Pagel in The Guardian. The common assumption that the virus has become “endemic” – just another seasonal disease like flu that we’ll have to get used to living with – is wide of the mark. In epidemiology, that term is generally used to describe diseases that have become stable and predictable. Covid is neither of those things yet.

We’re still being surprised by new variant waves – the latest to hit Europe is Omicron (BA.2) – that are causing significant surges in infection. And future variants could be more lethal. The idea that viruses always evolve to become milder is another myth. “Trying to ignore a disease that is still so unpredictable feels a bit like turning your back on a hungry tiger in the undergrowth.”

Alas, the Government has done just that, said The Independent, by prematurely scrapping the rules on face coverings and mandatory self-isolation, and by ending free Covid testing for all but a small number of vulnerable people.

Ministers should ignore the “predictably panicky response from certain quarters” about the recent jump in Covid infections, said The Daily Telegraph. We couldn’t afford to keep universal free Covid testing, which of course was never actually “free” but was funded at great expense by taxpayers. Britain spent over £15.7bn on testing, tracing and isolation in 2021-2022.

The Government has rightly decided that Covid has gone from being “an emergency to a manageable problem” best addressed through vaccines. If this requires rolling out another booster programme across all age groups at some point, so be it. “What we absolutely cannot do is return to restrictions. Those societies that have taken longer to lift them will pay a greater price.”

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