Freedom Day

Confessions of a Mask Wearer

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous has sent us this – an account of how they’ve been inspired by my no-more-mask declaration to follow suit.

I applaud Toby’s decision to stop wearing a mask from June 21st. Having made the same decision, I thought I would jot down some reflections on the wearing and the non-wearing of masks in these irksome times.

Perhaps more than anything else over the past 15 months, it has been the masks that have disheartened and dismayed me. The sight of hordes of mask-wearing covid zombies shuffling around the high street on a bright sunny day is a scene of bleak dystopian misery and I can only hope that future generations will regard evidence of this phenomenon with a combination of bewilderment and hilarity. Sceptics will be familiar with the arguments against masks – they don’t work; they are chiefly a psychological tool to remind us that “there’s a pandemic on”; they are a superstitious comfort blanket for the terrified and a symbolic totem for the zealous virtue signallers. I suppose at this stage in the game you either get it or you don’t, so I’m not going to dwell on the case for the prosecution.

But here’s the thing – despite hating the fetid and otiose rags with every fibre of my being, up to now I too have been wearing a mask when required! I know full well that many people have refused to wear one from the outset, and I admire their integrity. But I myself have been an abject coward. I have worn a mask in shops; on the train; when picking my son up from school. Yes, I have indulged in mild acts of subversion – the occasional baring of the nostrils; the chin dangle on the train while drinking a bottle of water that I made last for an hour. But deep down I knew that these petty acts of defiance, like a truculent schoolboy slouching around with his shirt untucked, were pathetic and ineffective.

So why did I comply? I justified it by believing that I had no choice but to obey the law. However unjust we might find any given statute, I lectured myself pompously, those of us who believe in the rule of law and the social contract that underpins our democratic society are duty bound to follow the law of the land. Otherwise the whole system will founder.

Cry Freedom – and Ditch the Masks

There follows a guest post by Edward Chancellor, a financial journalist and the author of Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation (1998).

“Freedom Day” on 21st June was supposed to be the day when Covid restrictions on the people of England came to an end. Predictably the release from wearing facemasks, social distancing, etc., has been postponed in the face of the ‘Delta’ variant. One member of the government’s scientific advisory group, Susan Michie suggests that we should continue wearing masks “forever”.

Professor Michie must be aware that all the evidence points to the fact that face masks offer little or no protection against the spread of respiratory diseases. The behaviour of the political leaders at the recent G7 meeting in Cornwall – donning masks for photo-ops but later partying together without masks or social distancing – suggests they too understand that masks are unnecessary. Nevertheless, many people, vaccinated or otherwise at no personal risk from COVID-19, continue to wear masks. They do so for no reason other than they are following government orders or are simply imitating the behaviour of their peers.

In his notorious Daily Telegraph article of August 5th 2018, Boris Johnson argued that the burkha was “oppressive” and that it was “weird and bullying” to expect women to cover their faces. He claimed that “human beings must be able to see each other’s faces and read their expressions. It’s how we work.” I agree with those sentiments. Nevertheless, until now I have gone along with the mask mandate in the misplaced hope that Boris would be true to his word and end the restrictions on June 21st.

It should now be clear that if we are to return to normality we must take back control of our destiny. The first and most obvious step is to stop wearing masks in public. In the “war on coronavirus” the mask-refuseniks can be seen not as reckless endangerers of other people’s lives but as conscientious objectors who set an example for the rest of the society to follow. We, the maskless, can show our fellow citizens that we refuse to live in fear and will not be ruled by arbitrary pseudo-scientific diktat. Boris cannot postpone Freedom Day if we have already ditched his oppressive, weird and bullying rules.

America is Open, So Why Aren’t We?

Lockdown Sceptics received a fantastic response to our call for news from the reopened states in America with which to shame our own timid Government as it delayed reopening for yet another month. We published the first as a taster on Wednesday. Now we bring you the rest.

A Road Trip to Florida and Texas

Mark – a Brit who lives in Connecticut and recently visited Florida and Texas – writes:

I spent the start of the pandemic in Manhattan, NY, where the initial response mirrored the U.K.’s. It was frightening, and to me seemed possibly OTT, but given the explosion of terrifying news and the predicted Armageddon I definitely didn’t consider myself a lockdown sceptic. There was no particular turning point, more just the steady stacking up of evidence that whether or not lockdowns ‘worked’ in terms of a non-zero reduction in R, they very clearly didn’t justify their extreme costs. By the time we got to May and police would harass me for not wearing a mask walking alone down a near-empty street while politicians across the world were getting exposed on a daily basis flouting their own rules, I was a resolute sceptic and found your site one of the few places that would keep me sane while L.A. was filling skateparks with sand the Spanish were disinfecting beaches.

My first trip to Orlando, Florida early in 2021 felt like I’d entered a parallel universe – it was hard to believe I was in the same country as the Northeast, coming from a micromanagement regime that treated me like a leper even once restaurants had their ‘opening’ with the full Monty of plexiglass, 25% capacity, digital menus/ordering and drink-only bans. To be clear, some Covid theatrics remained in Florida, particularly with corporations, but they were largely unenforced – think masks in hotels, six-foot queue marks in banks etc. Although there were no legal restrictions on mass gatherings, there weren’t a huge number of gigs or comedy shows, and the basketball was at pretty limited capacity. Although I didn’t agree with it, I still appreciated what it showed – if individuals or a business took a different view of the risks to me, they were free to limit their own behaviours or capacity without arbitrary rules forcing them to, and I could spend my money in busy venues with a better atmosphere.

Possibly the biggest difference was the attitude of people. In Connecticut and New York many people feel Covid entitles them to a level of rudeness about non-conformists that would’ve been unimaginable pre-pandemic, and even more, like the U.K., seemed to almost enjoy the constant discussion of Covid news. In Florida it certainly wasn’t ignored, but people treated one another like regular humans, and Covid was an aspect of life rather than the aspect. I felt welcomed and had a great trip.

If the above is a good example of how much better life can be when Covid is still very prevalent and other countries imprison people in their homes, my experiences on my recent trip, with Texas and Florida’s approaches now fully justified and cases far lower, highlight the absurdity of the current state of the U.K.’s lockdown-lite when Covid levels are extremely low.

In Texas we enjoyed packed nightclubs, unrestricted baseball games, and had an amazing night in Dallas on May 8th watching the sold-out boxing in front of 70,000 fans (see snap above).

Masks aside (more on that later), in most places Covid effectively didn’t exist. People with symptoms isolate and get tests, and if positive they warn their recent contacts – everyone else gets on with their lives and from my perspective is far happier because of it. Florida – theme parks excepted – was much the same. I challenge anybody who supports anything close to the U.K.’s current approach to visit Texas or Florida and still defend it.

“Four More Weeks to, Er…” – The Weakest Excuse for a Lockdown Yet

What justifies a lockdown? That’s the question which, 16 months after the policy was introduced into Western democracies as a draconian tool of disease management, we still don’t have a clear answer to. First sold to the public as a way of mitigating peak health service demand during the initial pandemic wave (and thus supposedly saving lives by ensuring more people could get treated – ignore the irony that the overuse of ventilators during those first few weeks likely increased the mortality rate), the justification has evolved over time. In November it was a “circuit breaker” to save Christmas, though Christmas was not saved. In January it was to buy time to allow the most vulnerable to receive at least their first vaccine dose, though it turned out that was not enough to restore our freedoms.

Yesterday the Prime Minister and his scientific flunkies Chris Witless and Patrick Unbalanced unveiled the Government’s latest excuse to keep the restrictions going. “The objective of this short delay,” said the Prime Minister, “is to use these crucial weeks to save thousands of lives, of lives that would otherwise be lost… by vaccinating millions more people as fast as we can.”

Sir Patrick elaborated on three benefits to the delay:

  1. Some protection for over-18s as they will have been offered one vaccine by July 19th.
  2. More protection for over-40s as more of them will have had both their vaccine doses.
  3. Reopening will be near to the school holidays when no mixing in schools will take place.

What none of the three explained was why these benefits justified four more weeks of restrictions, which hospitality leaders have said will mean a £3 billion loss to the industry during what should be one of its busiest trading periods.

The vaccines are “not 100% effective”, Vallance said, as though anyone had ever suggested they were, “and therefore avoiding a very large peak is very important. Realistically, if we ever got a very large wave, there would be a very large number of people in hospital”.

But would there? If the vaccines are as good as they are reported to be at reducing serious illness – Vallance described them yesterday as “spectacularly more effective than we ever could have hoped for” – then even if there are lots of cases in the young, why should hospitals get overrun?

Vallance explained that it was only because of the vaccines that they weren’t already looking at new lockdown measures: “If we didn’t have the vaccinations we’ve got, we would be looking at what lockdowns would be needed.” This is despite him also acknowledging that: “This is a virus that’s going to be with us forever.” Together these statements imply that lockdowns, too, are going to be with us forever, hanging over us, threatened whenever over-zealous public health advisers can persuade a risk-averse Prime Minister that the latest variant or virus is going to, well, what? As I say, that’s the question that still hasn’t been answered.

The latest restrictions are intended to “reduce the peak by 30-50%”, Vallance said. But will it be a big peak or a small peak? “Thousands of lives” will be saved, said the Prime Minister. But how many thousands? After all, thousands of lives are lost in the U.K. to contagious diseases every year – mostly though not exclusively among the very frail and otherwise unwell. If restrictions on social interaction are justified merely to save “thousands of lives”, why not impose them every winter? Or keep them in place permanently to prevent people getting too close and spreading their germs? That’s the logic of this mad, totalitarian approach to disease control (even if we allow, for the sake of argument, that lockdowns are effective at controlling COVID-19, a theory for which there is no real-world evidence).

The Prime Minister made much of a recent “doubling” in Covid hospital admissions, though on the Government dashboard hospital admissions are still short of doubling.

Lockdown Could Continue Past July 19th, Says Health Minister

The Prime Minister has yet to formally announce a four-week delay to the end of lockdown in England, but Government figures have already hinted that the imposition of restrictions could be extended beyond July 19th and even into the month of August. The Sun has the story.

Health Minister Ed Argar said it is “of course possible” that a longer delay will be needed to get the Indian variant under control.

But he said the hope is to use the month-long window to get 10 million second jabs into arms, extending full protection to 75% of Brits.

The PM is set to announce Freedom Day is being pushed back by four weeks to July 19th during a Downing Street press conference at 6pm.

He’ll include a break clause, meaning the lifting of restrictions could go ahead on July 5th if hospitalisations don’t significantly rise.

But some ministers fear that with cases spiralling the health situation could go the other way and curbs will need to stay in place for longer.

Asked about that possibility, Mr Argar said: “Were there to be a delay of course that’s possible.

“But I and the PM and the Health Secretary want to see restrictions removed as soon as it’s safe to do so, and any delay as short as possible.

“We’ve got to recognise vaccination is the key. This disease will become endemic and we’ve got to learn to live with it.

“We will not get to a zero Covid. Vaccination is the way to get to the point where we can live with this disease.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also warned he couldn’t provide an “absolute guarantee” restrictions will definitely be lifted on July 19th.

But Mr Argar was adamant that there will be no rolling back of the roadmap and return to the previous lockdown.

He said: “The key thing the PM has always said throughout is the dates set out in the roadmap were the earliest possible date it could happen.

“He’s been clear each step is irreversible, that is why he’s considering now whether or not to delay step four.

“The reason the gaps between stages are five weeks and the reason it’s staggered over a number of months – I know people would’ve wished it to be faster – is because he believes on the basis of the advice he’s received that means it can be irreversible.”

Worth reading in full.

The Huge Economic Cost of Delaying “Freedom Day” by Four Weeks

It is almost guaranteed that the Government will extend lockdown by at least four weeks. What is not yet clear is how much this will cost. Economically speaking, the outlook is dire. According to hospitality industry estimates, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be put at risk and the economy could lose £4 billion. The Sunday Times has more.

The Prime Minister has been accused of killing the summer of fun, with thousands of events set to be cancelled, including the potential for a second successive summer without big music festivals.

More than 5,000 music gigs by artists including Olly Murs, Beverley Knight and McFly are also expected to be cancelled at a cost of £500 million.

According to industry estimates, a four-week delay to the end of restrictions will cost pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants £3 billion in lost sales and £4 billion to the economy overall. A further 200,000 jobs in the sector, which still has 600,000 people on furlough, could also be lost, according to Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of lobby group U.K. Hospitality.

Under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, all social distancing restrictions were due to end on June 21st. At present, theatrical performances and sporting events have their attendances capped at 50% capacity while pubs, bars and restaurants are allowed to provide table service only, with social distancing and the “rule of six” indoors. All nightclubs are closed.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, 73, the theatre impresario, said that another delay to the roadmap delay would be “devastating” and pleaded with ministers to increase the permitted attendance from 50% to 75% as a compromise.

Melvin Benn, the promoter of Wireless, Download, Reading and Leeds festivals, said it would be “a complete and utter disaster for the country” if the easing of restrictions was pushed back to July 19th because test events showed capacity crowds could attend safely…

The final decision on whether to cancel freedom day is expected to be made at a meeting tonight, or first thing tomorrow, ahead of the announcement by the prime minister later the same day.

Worth reading in full.

Wembley Will Still Have Euros Crowds of at Least 22,500 But Fan Zones In Doubt

Wembley stadium will still let in 22,500 fans even if Freedom Day is delayed, but pubs will struggle if they’re not allowed to open for the entirety of the Euros. MailOnline has more.

Euro 2020 matches at Wembley will be exempt from lockdown rules and will host a minimum of 22,500 fans even if Freedom Day is delayed.

Discussions have taken place in government over allowing more fans to attend the two round of 16 games, as well as the semi-finals and finals, up to 45,000.

But sources told Sportsmail on Friday no agreement had been reached on the capacities for the knock out stages.

It comes as pubs called for a cash bailout if Freedom Day is moved back and they have to work under restrictions during the football.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said “It’s vital further financial support is forthcoming” because “major sporting occasions always offer bumper sales”.

Meanwhile an official claimed the 3,000-strong fan zone in Glasgow will be one of the safest places to watch the tournament.

Chris Weitz, senior sport development officer at Glasgow Life, said he is confident it will be a safe environment.

But the London Assembly refused to be drawn on whether the official fan park in Trafalgar Square will go ahead.

Worth reading in full.

Stadium Cancels Tickets for June 26th After “Discussions With Government”

A reader contacted us to tell us he just received the email above from the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, cancelling his tickets for the June 26th cricket match between England and Sri Lanka – five days after “Freedom Day”. It reads: “You will be aware of the continuing uncertainty around the return of supporters to sports stadia. In light of this and following discussions with Government and public health agencies, the capacity of the stadium has been restricted for this match.”

The reader comments:

Now, the really telling part of this is where it says “following discussions with Government and public health agencies” because this shows us that the decision to cancel most fans’ tickets hasn’t been made by those at Hampshire County Cricket Club because of what they think is the best approach – it is because of what they have been told to do.

I don’t want to spread fear over a delay to the easing of social distancing while we await Monday’s announcement or confirmation, but it seems incredibly unlikely to me that the Government would tell Hampshire CCC to reduce the capacity for this game if they hadn’t already made up their minds that social distancing will still be in place at least up until June 26th.

The signs are becoming ominous indeed. It will now be a pleasant surprise if Boris comes out on Monday and announces – as he should – that Freedom Day is going ahead as planned. As usual, the doom-mongers around the Prime Minister are winning. Will they ever let us go?

Meanwhile, more than two months ago in Texas

Apr 5, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; A view of the crowd and the fans and the stands during the playing of the Canadian and USA national anthems before the game between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Covid Recovery Group Calls on Boris to End All Restrictions on June 21st

Mark Harper and Steve Baker – the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Covid Recovery Group – have come out swinging today, demanding the Government end all social distancing restrictions on June 21st and allow the country to return to normal.

Steve has written a piece for the Sun today arguing it would be morally wrong to prolong our agony after June 21st:

The data is so good, and the doomsayers so wrong, that it cannot possibly be rational or morally right for us to have to socially distance from each other in any context or setting in the UK beyond June 21st. Being social is key to being well so by June 21st at the latest, Britain must meet again, must be reunited in every sense, and we must start healing the broken bonds of the last year with social contact and normal human interaction.

Worth reading in full (although the effusive praise for Boris’s leadership in the throat-clearing section at the top may irritate some readers).

And Mark has written for the Telegraph making a similar argument:

As Parliament returns, with his personal authority enhanced, the Prime Minister faces a choice. Last week, he gave us a fairly clear indication of what he would like to see when he hailed the “good chance” of social distancing being completely scrapped next month. With financial support schemes soon winding down, as they cannot go on forever, removing social distancing is crucial to the survival of many sectors of our economy such as hospitality, that simply cannot make any money and pay wages if it remains in place.

There needs to be early confirmation that social distancing will be completely scrapped from June 21st so that businesses can plan to fully reopen and ensure that we are truly on the “one way road to freedom” that the Prime Minister promised.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Steve Baker appeared on Julia Hartley-Brewer’s talkRADIO show this morning to talk about why all restrictions need to be lifted on June 21st.

Boris: Masks Will be Needed For Another Year

Boris Johnson’s Easter Monday press conference was a depressing affair, with the Prime Minister confirming that vaccine passports will be required to access large-scale events (like football games), warning that social distancing measures will have to remain in place after June 21st and a “traffic light” system will be unveiled on May 17th to determine which foreign countries we’re allowed to go to, if any. MailOnline has more.

Boris Johnson laid out a grim vision of coronavirus restrictions stretching into the future tonight amid fears his roadmap is being watered down.

The PM tried to strike a bullish tone saying the country’s hard work is “paying off” as he held an Easter Monday press briefing in Downing Street, confirming that shops can open on April 12th as planned.

Non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers can get up and running, while bars, restaurants and cafes will be able to serve customers outdoors.

“On Monday 12th, I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips,” Mr Johnson said.

As he struggled to quell rising anxiety about when normal life might resume, he said: “We set out our roadmap and we are sticking with it… We see nothing [in] the present data that makes us think we will have to deviate from that roadmap.”

However, the Government’s SAGE experts and a series of reviews published this afternoon cast serious doubt on the prospects of returning to normal by the June 21st date previously proposed for a full lifting – and Mr Johnson himself seemed to scale back his rhetoric on “freedom day”.

New evidence released by the Government suggested that the relaxation could spark a fourth peak in outbreak.

A paper indicated that “baseline measures”, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year – while voicing “reasonable confidence” that Covid will be manageable by then.

It said the reopening of pubs, cinemas and indoor hospitality – due to happen on May 17th – could be called into question if vaccine uptake in the under-50s dips below 85%.

Meanwhile, separate updates on a series of reviews gave little more than holding positions – stopping short of confirming that non-essential foreign travel will be allowed from the earliest mooted date of May 17th, with a traffic light system of restrictions due to come into force when the blanket ban lifts.

Mr Johnson said he would not provide a “hostage to fortune” by giving any timeline.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, has branded Boris’s vision of Britain post-reopening a “hellish demi-lockdown”. He gave the following quotes to the Mail after the Prime Minister’s presser:

We were told the vaccine was the way out, no ifs, no buts. We can see from the data that the vaccine is working better than anyone had hoped, but now the scientists are saying the real issue is variants or a third wave.

They want to keep Project Fear going because they are enjoying the control they have, and ministers have caved in to them.

The result is we are headed for a hellish demi-lockdown, where we have to be tested all the time, carry a vaccine passport everywhere and are under the constant threat of being locked down again.