STEPHEN GLOVER: As he risks millions of people being stuck at home, Sajid Javid has made a mockery of his entire strategy
What a relief the new Health Secretary Sajid Javid has been after the hectoring Matt Hancock, who combined a fair degree of incompetence with a lack of imagination in the role.
Mr Javid has quickly shown himself more broad-minded, and well aware of the terrible consequences not just on the economy but also on people’s health of perpetuating lockdown a day more than is necessary.
It seemed that he had broken free of senior civil servants at the Department of Health, who had long ago taken possession of Mr Hancock’s good sense by persuading him to champion a never-ending stream of coercive rules.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has quickly shown himself more broad-minded, and well aware of the terrible consequences not just on the economy but also on people’s health of perpetuating lockdown a day more than is necessary
Until now, that is. Yesterday afternoon the new broom that is Mr Javid suddenly looked alarmingly like his unlamented predecessor. His announcement that self-isolation rules are going to be dropped for the double-jabbed and under-18s was of course extremely welcome.
But why on earth has this long-overdue change been deferred until August 16, which is four weeks after so-called Freedom Day on July 19? The postponement runs counter to the Government’s recent optimistic tone, and appears to make a nonsense of its entire strategy.
What this means is that millions of people – the Adam Smith Institute reckons 4.6million a week – could be forced to self-isolate until the rules are finally dropped in the middle of August.
Mr Javid suggested yesterday that Covid infection rates could surge to 100,000 a day over the coming weeks. That is why millions of healthy people could be caught in the self-solation trap. Having just emerged from ten days’ quarantine myself, I can vouch for it being no fun at all.
It is very hard to see the logic behind the Health Secretary’s statement to the Commons. Boris Johnson’s press conference on Monday gave a strong impression of a Government opening up society again in the knowledge that vaccines have greatly reduced the likelihood of hospitalisation and death.
The consequence of clinging on to the existing self-isolation restrictions until August 16 will not merely be to imprison millions in needless and deeply frustrating self-isolation.
It seemed that he had broken free of senior civil servants at the Department of Health, who had long ago taken possession of Mr Hancock’s good sense by persuading him to champion a never-ending stream of coercive rules
How is it possible for anyone to run a business such as a pub, restaurant or nightclub (many of which are short-staffed as it is) if large numbers of employees are required to quarantine at a moment’s notice?
Imagine, too, the effect on people’s holiday plans of Mr Javid’s announcement. Many who book much-deserved holidays, whether at home or abroad, are bound to find themselves ‘pinged’ at the last moment, and so will be forced to cancel their plans and probably lose their money.
Are we opening up or not? It seemed after the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, as well as some bullish comments from Mr Javid, that we were. Now the Government looks confused and contradictory. It has not thought things through.
My only explanation is that as the new boy at the Health Department Mr Javid has somehow been hoodwinked by officials for whom imposing silly and irrational rules has become a way of life.
Tomorrow Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to announce the relaxation of regulations for travelling to so-called amber list countries, nearly all of which have infection rates very much lower than the UK’s.
According to Mr Javid on Monday, travel restrictions will be eased ‘very, very soon’. But will they be? Or will the plans of double-jabbed people to take holidays continue to face innumerable hurdles, including quarantine, for several more weeks?
One likely upshot of maintaining self-isolation restrictions until August 16 is that many people will delete their NHS apps or ignore a ‘ping’. Even normally law-abiding folk may resist incarceration when logic and clear thinking have been manifestly jettisoned by the Government.
It’s not too late to think again. If Mr Javid were to admit that it makes no sense to lock up millions of people at the very time the country is supposed to be returning to something like normality, he would earn widespread respect.
God knows, this Government has swerved about a good deal from the beginning of this pandemic. I had hoped that with a new man at the wheel we might follow a straighter course. After Sajid Javid’s bombshell yesterday, I am much less sure.