One year ago, July 4 was England’s Independence Day from coronavirus.

Shops and restaurants re-opened, albeit with requirements for masks.

One year on, and it’s Groundhog Day. After a prolonged period of restrictions from Christmas 2020, England awaits Freedom Day, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet ministers assure us will be on July 19.

On Monday, July 5, 2021, when the Duchess of Cambridge began self-isolating for ten days and her husband Prince William attended an NHS service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral, Boris gave a coronavirus briefing about what we can expect on Freedom Day. Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave Parliament a briefing at the same time.

All being well, tomorrow, I will report on the details of what they had to say.

It was largely good news, except for some ambiguity about masks, which could lead to mask rage once restrictions are relaxed.

Below is relevant analysis aired and published before Boris and Saj (as he is now known) delivered their remarks.

Masks

The most contentious lifting of restrictions concerns masks.

Masks are the new Brexit referendum. They have divided England enormously, as Matthew Lynn wrote in the Telegraph on July 5 (emphases mine):

Maskers and anti-maskers look set to become the new Remainers and Leavers (with almost, if not quite, the same tribes in both camps). Very few people on either side of that bitter debate were actually very interested in the finer points of tariffs on citrus fruits, or what the European Commission’s plans for the digital transformation of European industry might be this week. They wanted to say something about themselves.

He is not wrong. Anti-maskers, for the most part, appear to be Leavers. Pro-maskers are Remainers.

The Sunday news shows seemed to bear this out.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Trevor Phillips on Sky News that he would stop wearing one as soon as restrictions are lifted:

By contrast, Prof Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) told Phillips that he would continue to wear his mask ‘indefinitely’:

Finn is a man who manages to travel to holiday locations on taxpayer’s money. Here he is in Coimbra, Portugal. Nice work if you can get it. Wouldn’t Portugal have been on the amber list at the time of this interview? Interesting. Another case of ‘For me, but not for thee’.

So, how exactly will this mask dilemma play out in real life? This is what Matthew Lynn foresees:

London mayor Sadiq Khan, a man who never saw a cynical political gesture without wanting to give it a big hug, is reportedly toying with demanding that masks continue to be worn on public transport in the capital, whatever the Government decides. If he goes through with it, it can surely only be a matter of seconds before Wales’s Mark Drakeford and Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon follow suit, saltire or dragon optional, while every grandstanding local politician will soon be jumping on that bandwagon.

Likewise, businesses will be coming up with their own rules, based on what they see as their core demographic. A sports bar in Chelmsford, decked out in England flags? My feeling is it won’t require masks. A vegan cafe in Islington or Bristol? You will have to wrap up your face before ordering that soyamilk fair trade latte.

There was a time — at the height of the pandemic in Spring 2020 — when we had no masks. Somehow, the vast majority of us did not catch coronavirus.

Lynn reminds us of the absurdity of the rules:

We can also all argue about whether masks were ever necessary. The scientific evidence was always shaky, which was why most governments in Europe, as well as the US, were reluctant to impose them in the first place. The rules governing masks have become increasingly bizarre, too. Why the virus doesn’t spread while you are eating a meal at a restaurant, for example, but does while you walk to the lavatory, defies any rational explanation.

Nonetheless, Lynn sees masks and lockdowns as yet more tools of social division:

We might have hoped that Covid-19 would soon be behind us. There seems little chance of that now. The divisions lockdowns have opened up and exacerbated will run for years.

Hope amidst ambiguity

The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley wrote ‘The British must reject fear and dump their masks’.

He began by saying:

Hope, at last! The Government has indicated that all legal lockdown restrictions will end in England on July 19 and that even masks will become a question of choice, in which case I choose to burn mine. I’ve only worn the wretched thing “to make others feel comfortable”, and my heroes are the religious cranks and anti-social yobs who refused to play along.

He is pinning his hopes on new Health Secretary Sajid Javid:

Javid, one hopes, has taken a fresh look at the data and concluded that cases are rising significantly but hospitalisations and deaths are not, which suggests the emergency is under control.

Stanley says we must adjust our outlook towards coronavirus:

We need to shift from disaster containment to threat management. Think of it as living in an earthquake zone: you’re conscious of the risk and prepare for the worst, but you don’t walk around acting like an earthquake is happening right now, with your knees bent, holding onto the furniture. Nor should we act as if Covid will kill us all, because it won’t.

He has two suggestions for the Government in order to make things clear to the public and avoid ambiguity:

The Government needs to get two things right. One is consistency: if adults are free, children should be too. It makes no sense whatsoever that they are isolating from school, or even routinely tested, if this disease doesn’t pose a direct threat to them and the vulnerable are double-jabbed. If we keep this silly regime going on in schools, it would both be unjust and sow confusion and fear: how are we supposed to feel safe if kids are treated like unexploded bombs?

And, second – this is so crucial – the Government mustn’t allow legal restrictions to be replaced with ongoing “advice” or “guidance”, because we’ve never got to the bottom of which is what, and the result – if trains or supermarkets are still advising us to distance and people assume they have to comply – will be de facto lockdown.

SAGE and communitarianism

SAGE continue to try to make the UK a communitarian, authoritarian society with their rules and restrictions.

Sorry, we are not the Far East, and most of us do not want to transform Britain into that type of society.

Here is a good example of SAGE-think. On Sunday, July 4, the Telegraph reported:

Prof Stephen Reicher at the University of St Andrews, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, said it was frightening to have ministers “who want to make all protections a matter of personal choice when the key message of the pandemic is “this isn’t an ‘I’ thing, it’s a ‘we’ thing.”

No, it is not a ‘we’ thing. It never should have been.

Reicher gets a lot of airtime on the BBC, especially in Scotland.

Prof Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director for England, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that we must continue to protect the NHS by getting vaccinated twice. He said that the link between infection and hospitalisation is ‘severely weakened’ but not yet broken:

When asked about masks, he said:

Some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances, such as crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep.

Millions of us would disagree.

As for official figures in England:

Official figures showed there had been 24,248 Covid cases in the last 24 hours, up 161 per cent on a fortnight ago and highest daily figure since January, but only 15 more people had died as more than half English residents have now been double-jabbed.

These scientists must be from SAGE:

Some UK scientists warned however, that the lifting of all Covid-19 restrictions was like building new “variant factories” at a very fast rate.

If it were up to them, we, the great unwashed, would never see freedom again.

A new ‘broom’, a new outlook

We are fortunate to have a new health secretary who is a new broom, so to speak, with a new outlook.

Sajid Javid is on the same page as Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Boris himself.

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson explained the alliance for the Telegraph on Thursday, July 1:

Unlocking on July 19 now looks a near-certainty, but so does the surge in Covid cases. So the Prime Minister will need to explain to a nervous country why, all of a sudden, people should be relaxed when the virus rises. Javid will need a version of the “live without fear” theme that Sunak was developing last summer. To say that most of these cases are now among the under-25s, so hospitalisations should be low, posing no serious threat to the NHS. And it’s best to get this “exit wave” over with now, rather than wait for the winter.

This will be the next battle: whether Covid-style techniques (self-isolation, classroom closures) should be used to fight back whatever winter brings. This is perhaps where a Sunak-Javid alliance will really come into play. Last summer, the Treasury vetoed an NHS plan to expand hospital capacity on the (now laughable) logic that Test and Trace would quash any second wave. Extra capacity is needed now. Lockdowns, of course, hurt the economy and hit future ability to pay for the NHS.

When the vaccines were first proven to work, Johnson’s first thought was that this meant things should be over quickly. Surely they’d only need to protect the over-50s, he thought, then life could then get back to normal. It all turned out very differently, and he ended up caught in a Whitehall war. In Sunak and Javid, he now has two of his most senior ministers committed to an irreversible reopening.

They might not succeed. But this time, he can’t say he lacked the support that he needs.

I hope the plan for July 19 works, especially as it would send a clear message to SAGE about the direction of the future for the UK. A data review will take place on Monday, July 12.