BOris Johnson Often, John Bull, a ruddy cartoonist from England during the George dynasty, is on the channel. He anthropomorphized the freedom-loving British Yeoman in opposition to Napoleon’s tyranny. Johnson announced the first pandemic blockade in Britain in March 2020, lamenting that “the British free-born people have deprived the ancient inviolable right to go to pubs.” Government behavioral scientists were in a hurry about disorder and looting, warning that the British would ignore even modest restrictions.
Bull. For 16 months, the British obeyed faithfully and most often without complaining. However, on July 19, Johnson plans to abolish almost all remaining anti-covid measures in the UK. Nightclubs will be reopened, the restaurant’s capacity limit will be lifted, and masks will no longer be required. The tabloids call it “Free Day.”conservative MPs is overjoyed. Many British people do not.
Polling with Ipsos Woods for economist Two-thirds suggest that masks, social distance, and travel restrictions should be continued for another month (see graph). The majority will support them until covid-19 is managed worldwide. This can take several years. Even more surprising, quite a few want their personal freedom to be permanently restricted. A quarter says nightclubs and casinos should never be reopened. Two in ten would support an indefinite ban on leaving home after 10 pm “without good reason.”
Some notes are not surprising. According to Health Minister Sajid Javid, the number of cases is increasing rapidly and can reach 100,000 per day. It will be almost twice as high as the peak of the winter waves. Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer calls the removal of restrictions “reckless.”
Nevertheless, the very high immunization rates in the UK limit the increase in hospitalizations and mortality. Vaccination reduced the case fatality rate of covid-19 from 0.8% to less than 0.1% of estimated infections, as was the case with seasonal influenza. Unlocking now will increase covid-19 infections before the flu epidemic winter. Schools with many infectious diseases are going on holidays.
The public’s willingness to make sacrifices for the public good in times of crisis surprised the minister. One insider says the British changed their minds about whether to volunteer for war. However, the pandemic also revealed John Bull’s authoritarian sources.
Many British did not dance, drink or vacation abroad, even before the pandemic. Nightclubs, casinos and dark streets are full of fraudsters of all kinds. For some, the infinite blockade seems to be an acceptable price for everyone else at home. ■■
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This article was published in the print version of the UK section under the heading “The Bizarre Myths of Liberal England”.