Normality is near! Sort of.

There is light at the end of the tunnel at last! As the world’s longest sequel draws to a close (total runtime: 648 hours), Boris Johnson has this week outlined his winter COVID plan. Since I cannot go out – yet – I thought it would be a good use of time to analyse three of the Government’s changes and give my non-expert opinion on their (un)usefulness. 

Localised Tiering

News released on Thursday 26th November put many of us out of our uncertain misery by clarifying which COVID tier we will belong to quickly followed by certain misery upon understanding said clarifications. As a northern exile in London (though southern by birth) I predicated London would move into tier 2 regardless of its R number which would inevitably lead to outrage amongst peoples of places less “favoured” and strengthening the “Westminster bubble” cliche. The most likely reason, I told myself, is that London is home to the greatest number of hospitality businesses and staff, a huge economic driver. Therefore, no matter how bad things were here, hospitality would always reopen in London despite having a higher R rate than Manchester. This is not to say Manchester shouldn’t be in tier 3, but instead that London should too.

Moving away from rationalising the Government’s decision-making, I thought I would now take a stab at their next move. Come December 16th (the next tier review) I believe that all tier 3 venues will become tier 2 whilst tier 2’s will remain stagnant even if a nuclear bomb of cases explodes. This will swiftly be followed by another lockdown, or mass tier 3 escalation, in January to nurse the COVID (and actual) hangover of December raucousness. 

A trip to Cornwall anyone?

The 11 PM Curfew

There is nothing worse than being hurried out of a restaurant, pub, or bar with a full drink enticingly staring at you from the table. Punters no doubt experienced this situation en masse due to the Government’s 10 PM hospitality lights-on. Admittedly, I only flew too close to this curfew and faced the aforementioned nightmare once, but that one time was plenty to make me annoyed about it. There were other valid reasons why this policy was silly, namely that the entire venue would crowd out onto the streets in droves but that is not nearly as significant as the mortifying moment of having to down a full drink in front of a captive, expecting and annoyed audience. 

I was therefore delighted that 10 PM would become 11 PM in this winter COVID plan, meaning instead I can purchase two drinks at 21:59 (last orders 10 PM) to nurse for an hour and still end up having to drink up as fast as possible at 10:59 anyway. The extra 59 minutes of peace is much appreciated. Whilst it is easy to be facetious, I can see the reasoning behind the move, it makes it easier to stagger leaving times and reduce public transport mixing. However, that is logic in theory, in practice will this reduce the end-of-evening rush? I doubt it. 

Hospitality venues have spent £100s of millions to ensure COVID compliance and are much safer venues to be in than, say, supermarkets (source). The industry has been decimated by COVID and the Government has refused to consult industry leaders in any meaningful way during the decision making process. Many of these businesses will not be able to turn a profit regardless of lockdown 2.0 ending due to the continued stringent measures placed on hospitality venues. The extended curfew is not progress, it is yet another ill-thought-out piece of lip service that does very little to address any of the issues these venues face. An extra hour of paying staff at a period in which punters are most likely contemplating leaving, not spending more. Four pints and four substantial meals, please!

Grassroots sport can resume!

Lockdown 2 brought a temporary end to grassroots sport once more. There are many sports which I can completely understand the need for pressing pause, football, for instance, lots of close contact for a prolonged period. However, I could not work out why sports such as golf and tennis were forced to halt activity. 

If I were to meet a friend to play golf (which would be a disaster since I am terrible at golf and so are most of my friends) this would be forbidden under this lockdown’s rules. However, I could meet the same friend at the golf course and walk around the 18 holes simulating a round, this would be perfectly acceptable. Makes sense. 

The one which really left me perplexed was tennis. There is no sport, in my view, better placed to enable COVID-safe play than tennis. There is a natural barrier in the form of a 12m net and a 23m distance between players. This is 10x the requirement of the 2m rule. Admittedly things get tricky with doubles but that could have been a temporary casualty whilst singles should have been allowed to continue in lieu. Yes, okay you could argue that passing one another to switch-ends or both participants being dragged into the net to counteract a drop-shot could reduce the 23m separation to within 2m. However, both situations can be resolved by a simple gentleman’s agreement to avoid such occurrences. 

I know what you are thinking if we are making modifications for one sport than the same could be done for other sports and the argument could be made to keep all going, therefore it is best just to provide blanket rules to prevent friction amongst the governing bodies. But, as I am sure you expect, I disagree. 

The LTA (British tennis’ governing body) has provided extensive guidance on how to play safely without compromising the integrity of the game (as I am sure other bodies have too). The same could not be done in football, where if you removed the physical element – we won’t get into a discussion on modern football’s physicality, as at grassroots level it certainly does remain – the game would be compromised. The Government themselves have long advocated against blanket rules being applied due to COVID nuances in location or sector, the same should have been true in sport. Some of the reasoning to sports being prevented in the first place was due to the mixing before and after the game, not during, but this assumes complacency on the part of the public. If getting to enjoy a game of tennis required me to not greet my opponent so be it. If anything it establishes a competitive intent and I am all for victory at any cost.

This retrospective arguing and dissatisfaction is redundant now anyway as the blanket ban has been lifted. We are all free to continue sport once more and I can go back to thinking about how nice it would be to play tennis in peace without lockdown preventing my hypothetical game. 

To end

There is finally light at the end of the tunnel as the “scientific cavalry” approach over the horizon with a vaccine (source), sadly not in the same fashion as Gandalf The White at Helms Deep. We owe those who work in the relevant fields a great deal in achieving a momentous feat in such pressurised external circumstances. It cannot be put into words the gratitude and admiration I have for those human beings in being able to provide a permanent route out of the situation we are currently in. 

It is now the job of the Government to ensure mass adoption of the vaccine. They must distribute a campaign of education and assurance that this vaccine is not only effective but crucially, safe to have (source). 

There is a frightening amount of misinformation about vaccines in circulation currently and I will not give them the time here and it is the responsibility of us all to distribute fact over fiction and encourage doubters to read the evidence themselves, that this vaccine is has gone through all of the necessary regulatory processes without corners being cut and is safe. It is, of course, one’s personal choice whether or not they wish to be vaccinated and this must be respected but I would remind those people if it were not for vaccines, millions (perhaps billions) more would suffer from countless conditions which are now not present in many countries, ranging from polio to measles. 

The scientists have done their part, it is now our duty to get vaccinated.

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