However lower in mortality, the Delta variant of Covid-19 is patently not under control and is spreading fastest through young people under 24. A prime target for control must be “super-spreader” venues such as nightclubs and perhaps indoor pubs.
The Evening Standard has been predicting a need for vaccine passports since February, and it has been right. What are the authorities supposed to do? The “pingdemic” now threatening London’s supply chains and public services with empty shelves and fewer trains appears unsustainable. It has proved too blunt and disruptive an instrument. Workers in the open air cannot be high-risk spreaders. But if there is one thing the metropolis does not want it is a return to full lockdown. For the time being — and strictly for the time being — restrictions on indoor crowds, possibly like masks on public transport, are reasonable.
I can understand that if I own a London nightclub, I would want to wring Boris Johnson’s neck. I have watched the blood drain from my business for 17 months. I have planned my reopening amid endless bombast about “world-beating” test-and-trace and “freedom days”. Then on the day it actually arrives, I am told it is not real.
The dread machines, the ropes, queues and inspectors will return, along with the arguments, the fights, the disappointments and the slashed revenues. “An absolute shambles” was the reaction of the Night Time Industries Association’s Michael Kill. “So freedom day for nightclubs lasted around 17 hours.” None of this was forewarned. The conduct and language of lockdown has been that of a Whitehall detached from people’s lives and livelihoods outside its secure little bubble. Why, if things are so critical, is the new control being delayed until after summer?
One thing we have learned from our “Daily Cummings” is that Johnson personally has long been on the side of freedom. His belief that Covid was most lethal only to old people was initially correct, as was his scepticism towards many of the trivial features of his lockdown. But for some time it has been clear that the third wave, which no one predicted, is continuing to rise. It is doing so at an alarming rate, even if hospitalisation and death rates are far behind waves one and two. This is a nightmare pandemic for policymakers.
Opposition to ID cards, certificates, domestic “passports” is deep-seated in Britain. It evokes images of the Third Man film, enemy aliens, refugees and lives dependent on scraps of paper. We should not have to identify ourselves to authority to go about our daily lives. This reluctance has been vastly increased by the advance in modern corporate and state surveillance. Last year’s hair-raising documentary, The Social Dilemma, on the intrusiveness of social media should be compulsory viewing in all schools. The phone in your pocket is toxic to privacy. It is a new enslavement.
Any promise from government, Google or Facebook that its data is “secure” is dangerous rubbish. Nothing electronic is secure, not Johnson’s every remark to an aide, or Matt Hancock’s wandering hand or even Emmanuel Macron’s personal phone. The concept of the individual faces a menace from which we have as yet established no immunity.
But we have to handle the present. Vaccination so far appears to be the only answer to Covid. Nothing else seems to work. Crowded venues must be made as safe as possible. It may be reckless to wait until September, but young people are being given time to get their jabs, and managements to prepare for them. A ticket of entry should mean no more than a flashed NHS app at the door. Such controls must only be for the duration of the pandemic. But I have come across no better idea.
There is nothing new in passes. Old people have bus passes. Drivers have licences. Tourists to some countries used to need health certificates. A “Londoner” pass was once proposed to give citizens free or reduced admission to London museums and arts venues. That is for another day.
Now is clearly an emergency from which all London is craving to escape. Vaccination is, for the moment, the only evident means of such escape. Vaccination there must be.
Hotter, sunnier and wetter. Britain's weather in the last 30 years was different to the preceding three decades.