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On 21 June England is scheduled to be released from the final curtailments of national lockdown, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland planning to follow a similar timetable. It remains to be seen just how quickly life returns to the normality of pre-pandemic days, however. Most scientists and health experts caution that the coming summer will still have to be spent under the shadow of some social restrictions.
Mask-wearing should continue for several more months, if not longer, say experts. “We’d like to keep infection numbers as low as possible this summer to maximise our chances of keeping life close to normal over the much more uncertain winter,” said Professor Rowland Kao of Edinburgh University. “Some continued restrictions would therefore seem wise. This may include keeping down the number of people spending prolonged periods in one place, such as restaurants and pubs, continued recording of people visiting such places, to make tracking easier, and the continued use of masks.”
Professor Paul Hunter of East Anglia University agreed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if face masks still had to be worn on public transport and maybe in other places for some time yet,” he said. This point was also backed by Professor James Naismith of Oxford University, who argued that face-mask wearing could become a useful measure for countering diseases other than Covid-19. “I think we’ll re-impose masking in the winter on crowded indoor spaces. It has the benefit of reducing flu.”
The issue of international travel causes particular concern for most health experts and scientists. “Variants will continue to arise, so the opening up of travel needs to be cautious at best, with good surveillance and tracking for people entering the country,” Kao said.
This point was backed by Linda Bauld, professor of public health of Edinburgh University. “The biggest area of uncertainty is international travel. To imagine everything will be back to normal on that front by the end of June is very ambitious indeed and risks undermining the progress we’ve made domestically.”
Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University also voiced apprehension. “The possibility of so-called variants of concern puts the spotlight on international travel. However hard we try, variants cannot be kept at bay indefinitely. That argues for making travel as safe as possible – vaccine passports and testing are important here, maybe coupled with self-quarantine, but also having a clearly thought out plan for if or when our defences are breached. That could involve a very rapid rollout of a modified vaccine.”
Concerts and major sporting events
The government is committed to allowing increasing numbers of people to attend large events over the summer. It isn’t clear how quickly that should be allowed to happen, however. “One big question is whether or not large indoor events will be allowed to go ahead,” Hunter told the Observer. “If we get through the next six weeks with no apparent surge in new infections, then these will probably be allowed. But if things aren’t looking as optimistic, maybe there will need to be some back-pedalling.” Kao added: “Mass gatherings should only be considered cautiously, as much for the associated gatherings around them as for the direct risk to large numbers at once.”
Most scientists urge restraint when it comes to returning to physical contact with friends and family. “I don’t think we will quite see the return to hugging and air-kissing between friends and colleagues for a while,” said Hunter.
On the other hand, the majority of those who spoke to the Observer last week revealed a fair measure of optimism that the country could see a return to some kind of normality.
“The pandemic won’t be over on June 21 – not even close,” added Woolhouse. “However, the successful vaccination programme has made the prospect of living with Covid-19 far more palatable than it seemed a year ago.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The end of lockdown: exactly how much freedom will we have? | Coronavirus