Be realistic: I don’t expect to see football at Portman Road again this year

Don't expect to see crowds back at Portman Road before spring next year. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Don't expect to see crowds back at Portman Road before spring next year. Picture: STEVE WALLER - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

This week’s comments about pubs and restaurants possibly being shut until Christmas as a result of the lockdown seems to have been greeted by shock and horror by many people – however I’m not one of them.

The prospect of pubs and restaurants being closed until Christmas will threaten the viability of som

The prospect of pubs and restaurants being closed until Christmas will threaten the viability of some - but will be necessary to beat Covid-19. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

I’ve always felt the lockdown would be a very lengthy affair and I feel that many people have had an unrealistic, almost rose-tinted, view of how long it would last and how long it will take to get back to how we were before coronavirus struck.

Sports bodies have been particularly unrealistic in this with debate about when and how the football season can restart and be finished in time to start the new season later in the year.

I felt right at the start of the lockdown that any talk of restarting in May or June was pie in the sky. That seems even clearer now. There is an obvious solution – and one that, I suspect, football authorities will eventually wake up to.

You restart the 2019-20 season in March 2021. It becomes the 2019-21 season.

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There can be no contact sport until everyone playing it has a vaccine against Covid-19. How on earth can you tackle an opponent while staying two metres away from them? And then there’s the impact on thousands of spectators at professional sports.

If a vaccine is developed by September/October – and there does appear to be growing confidence among scientists and the medical community about that and we had the announcement that clinical trials are starting today – then an inoculation programme can be drawn up.

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But professional sports players are unlikely to be at the top of that. It will go first to the most vulnerable people in society, then to health and care staff whose work puts them at increased risk from the disease, then for the general population (probably starting with older people who also seem more vulnerable than young sports stars).

I know the idea of a year without professional sport will be a hardship for many people. As a keen armchair football, cricket and Formula One fan, I’m not keen on that idea myself. But it is a price we are likely to have pay if we are to defeat this disease.

Because the facts of it remain stark. The lockdown was never aimed at curing the disease or getting rid of it from the land. It is a very infectious disease – experts believe that, unchecked, everyone with the virus could normally spread it to 3.5 other people.

The aim of lockdown is to cut contact with other people. They now believe that everyone with the disease is spreading it to less than one other person. That is why the number of infections are falling as are the number of intensive care unit beds being occupied.

But the number is falling only because the lid is being kept on it. Lockdown is about suppression rather than cure. Take the lid off the pandemic and it will explode again in our faces. And remember for all the huge number of deaths announced every day, most experts reckon that less than 5% of the British population has been infected with Covid-19. There are still about 60m people in this country who are potential targets for it!

All this means that before we can go ahead and open sites like pubs, restaurants, theatres and sports stadiums where there is no social distancing we will have to have at the very least a strong tracing app that is used by a huge proportion of the population or a reliable vaccine.

To ensure these are used, we will have to accept serious constraints on our civil liberties. We cannot have people saying: “I don’t have vaccines” because of some cod-medical belief. If you’re not vaccinated you’ll have to live in lockdown for ever!

One thing I do want to make clear. I do see some easing of lockdown over the next few months, possibly by the end of May, with factories being able to reopen with suitable social distancing, some further shops opening, and possibly a relaxation on the strict rules surrounding the use of parks and open spaces.

I suspect we will be told we can visit friends and relatives in their own homes – so long as we observe social distancing and don’t gather in large groups of more than, say, 10 people.

But these changes will be closely monitored – and any sign of the number of infections rising will see the lockdown instantly being re-imposed.

The lockdown is a game-changer for society. New opportunities will arise after it. But society will change. There will be fewer pubs, fewer restaurants, probably fewer theatres, cinemas and sports clubs – especially in the short to medium term. It is something we need to accept now – otherwise we’ll have a terrible shock when we discover the bright uplands of the future aren’t as bright as we expected!

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