Pubs before hugs: Why can’t we visit loved ones?
PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 June 2020
Dentists are opening Monday, the high street opens the week after and pubs are planning to pull pints in July – so why is visiting your loved one’s house still not allowed?
Changes to the lockdown on June 1 mean you can now visit each other’s gardens and groups from different houses can gather at a distance.
It was, we were told, something we won back by sticking to the rules and keeping the virus at bay.
I was personally very excited. It was the first time I could see my girlfriend in 10 weeks and not have to remain on the move in public, we could sit and talk just like people used to do in the halcyon days of February this year.
But the reality of sitting opposite someone you love, carefully monitoring how close your feet get and shivering as the sun goes down around you, is bittersweet.
She and I are lucky, even if we are keeping standard-issue socially distant, we can only imagine how hard other families are finding things with childcare pressures and clinically extremely vulnerable people to protect – the latter made more confusing by an announcement from the UK government last week.
Moving the goalposts
The government has some backlash for announcements made with little to no warning, leaving some entire sectors scrambling for resources like PPE.
Dentists were caught off-guard when they were given little more than a week to prepare to reopen from June 8, with the British Dental Association telling patients to expect a “skeleton service” and little chance of “business as usual”.
And hospital boss Nick Hulme was diplomatic enough to say he was “surprised” at a lack of consultation when Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on a Friday afternoon that face coverings would be required in hospitals from June 15.
Stranger still was the surprise for those told at the start of lockdown on March 23 to ‘shield’ for 12 weeks and remain at home.
On May 31, with less than 24 hours warning, they were told their restriction had been lifted two weeks early and meeting one person from another household at a socially distant two metres was now allowed.
This seemed at odds with the government’s own one-to-five Covid threat level – we were still at level four as we had been since the start of lockdown, meaning transmission rates are high.
Previous announcements from the government also said lockdown would only begin easing when the threat level dropped and we had met Mr Hancock’s ‘five tests’ of hospital capacity, falling death and infection rates, adequate PPE supplies and confidence changes would not cause a second wave of infections.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had already been forced to defend the decision to press ahead with the changes despite the threat level staying the same at a briefing earlier in the month.
The government’s cautious approach from the early stages of lockdown was shifting to a race to return to ‘normal’.
What has changed – and what will change next?
With so many unprecedented things happening in the last three months, you would be forgiven for forgetting the excitement of garden centres reopening three weeks ago.
The biggest change so far was allowing up to six people to meet, albeit at two metres apart, from June 1. Outdoor markets and car showrooms also opened this week.
All non-essential shopping stopped in March, but stores across Suffolk can open again from June 15 provided they are made ‘Covid-secure’.
Primary schools had opened to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils, with secondary schools in England accepting Year 10 and Year 12 students from June 15.
Hairdressers, barbers and nail bars are among the businesses told to wait until at least July 4 before usual service can resume.
However there has been no indication from government when any social distancing will end or the introduction of ‘bubbles’ will begin.
The prospect of tequila slammers being permitted but hugging your parents being too dangerous is ironically sobering.
Within touching distance
In broad terms, the scientific evidence the government is following shows the virus is less likely to be transmitted in outdoor environments, so meeting outdoors and keeping socially distant stops the rate of infection rising.
Haircuts are famously conducted within arms reach of a hairdresser, so it is expected social distancing measures will be changed by then.
But will the UK threat level still be at four when this happens? Will it mean the threat level is wrong or are we in danger? How much further do the number of infections and deaths need to fall before it is safe to meet again?
On June 3 there were 179 deaths recorded in hospitals in the UK after a positive Covid-19 test, according to NHS England data.
There were 328 deaths recorded in England overall according to Public Health England.
This means that just under half of Covid-19-related deaths are happening in the community and care homes.
Surely this proportion must drop considerably before asking the public to take their lives into their own hands.
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