WHEN Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, announced in March 2020 that the country would be shut down indefinitely, few argued.

The population was scared witless of this virus called Covid-19, and we all knew we had to play our individual parts in navigating ourselves, our families and our country through the peak. We did it because we thought we might die if we did not. We thought we might kill our friends and families. We thought the NHS might collapse and have to shut for emergency treatment. We thought there may be dead bodies in the street.

The eternal promise of light at the end of the tunnel kept everyone going. Just.

Everyone learns, from scientists, to politicians, to the general public. And we know much, much more now than we did then about the risks of Covid. We know that hospitalisation and death are exponentially more likely to occur in those with underlying health problems, those aged over 60, and particularly those over 80.

We know that younger, healthy people are very unlikely to be ill enough to be hospitalised, although we also know that there is a risk (thought also to be low) of developing so-called Long Covid. Because of this, we know that the primary reason for those outwith a risk category to observe the rules to which we have all become accustomed is not to protect themselves, but to protect others, and the health service.

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We also now know that the risk of young children becoming ill from Covid is so small that it is statistically insignificant, and researchers now also believe that pre-adolescent children may not be capable of transmitting the virus to adults.

As well as a hugely increased foundation of knowledge about the risks of the disease, we are seeing more and more evidence about the risks of the cure – the lockdown. Studies in Europe and the US have revealed a deeply concerning trend of adults reporting anxiety or depression, with as many as two-in-five adults suffering according to one study. Substance abuse was shown to be on the rise in the same study. Research here in the UK has linked lockdown with significantly increased alcohol consumption.

We are staring down the barrel of massive unemployment when the furlough scheme ends, with all the associated physical and mental ill-health implications which result from financial distress.

In our paediatric community, we have been well-warned by a range of organisations about the lifelong educational, mental, physical and financial implications of children being out of school.

However, had we known last March what we know now about the risks of lockdown, it is highly likely that little would have changed. Governments have a political and a moral imperative to save the lives at risk in front of them rather than the ones at risk at an undefined time in the future.

So, as we enter another period of uncertainty about the spread of the latest variant of concern, originating in India, why should we behave any differently than we have done over the last 15 months?


The answer to that should be simple, but for reasons difficult to discern, it is being obscured. The answer is the one our leaders told us was our passport to normality at least a year ago. The answer is the vaccine.

At 41 and with good health, I received my vaccination on Sunday, along with hundreds of thousands of others outwith the risk groups. Those in the risk groups have long since had their first vaccine, offering partial immunity, and those in the highest risk groups have also had their second, pushing that immunity to its limit.

Yet, despite this, the restrictions upon us are being eased painfully slowly. The hospitality industry, already on its knees, is still only permitted to host six people at a table, and only if they are from three households. Every day that continues, livelihoods are at risk. Even at level 1, purported to kick in next week, that only rises to eight, and still from three households; at level 0, purported to kick in at the end of this month, only to ten from four households. There is currently no further planned easing. At all. This is terrifying the industry, with good reason.

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There are less visible impacts in every corner of our lives. My primary school children remain prohibited from playing with friends in other classes, outside as well as inside, during the school day, despite the fact that they attend breakfast club and after school club together, and see each other at parties and activities out of school. Given all the evidence we now understand about the paediatric community, how can this restriction, which affects our children in ways which will likely not become clear for years to come, be medically or morally justified? When they ask me “Dad, why won’t they let us play with our friends”, is the answer “Because they think the virus only transmits between 9 and 3 on a weekday”?

We have now reached the stage where we should expect our leaders to be comparing in precise detail the risk of restrictions against the risk of Covid. In the early days of the pandemic, it was clear and unarguable that the line depicting the risk of Covid was significantly higher up the X-axis than the line depicting the risk of lockdown.

Here we are, though, a year further along the Y-axis, with at-risk groups protected against previous variants and although thought to have good immunity to the latest variant of concern, and with the lines depicting the risk of Covid and the risk of lockdown surely competing for top spot.

Our governments, and their scientific advisers, told us that the vaccine was the way out. They told us that outbreaks need not lead to local lockdowns, because the vaccine offered sufficient protection for us to carry on with our business without risking the lives of ourselves or those around us. They even told us, relatively recently, that Covid would soon be treated in the same way as seasonal influenza.

We must not let our leaders forget that. We know who the restrictions are damaging. We are entitled to ask who they are protecting.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters