Star comment: Delay in lifting of restrictions a small price to pay

There was something of an inevitability about Boris Johnson's latest address to the nation regarding the remaining Covid restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

After following the roadmap out of lockdown to the letter for weeks, it recently became clear that the country was heading for a stumbling block on the route to 'freedom day' on June 21.

On one hand hospital admissions are down, and those who do require treatment are not as seriously ill as in previous stages of the pandemic.

The vaccine rollout, which continues apace, has protected millions of the country's most vulnerable people.

Put simply, far less people are dying from this dreadful virus and there has been no repeat of the strain the NHS was under earlier in the year.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that infections have started to rise sharply, with the Delta variant as it is now known, sweeping across parts of the country at an alarming rate.

And while eight in 10 adults are currently testing positive for antibodies, according to the Office for National Statistics, there are still large numbers of people at risk of infection.

Scientists and public health experts have been warning for weeks that ministers should seriously consider whether it is completely safe to fully reopen with the current situation as it is.

The call has been to focus on data, not dates.

With that in mind, the Prime Minister was left with little choice but to announce that the lifting of the final barriers to freedom would be delayed.

It was a message that nobody wanted to hear.

For our already struggling hospitality industry in particular, the delay will be tough to take.

Clubs and other venues, many of which have been forced to stay closed for most of the past 15 months, were banking on a full summer of trade to get the tills ticking over.

Pushing back those plans will come at a high cost, with the Prime Minister's announcement immediately followed by warnings that thousands of businesses could close for good.

Make no mistake, this is a desperate situation with no easy solution.

But as we have said throughout this pandemic, when it comes to the argument of 'health vs wealth', there can only be one winner.

Undoubtedly, many will feel that the lockdown has gone on for long enough. Businesses are suffering and people's mental health is under strain.

Everybody wants the country to fully reopen, but under no circumstances can we risk the third wave of Covid becoming anywhere near as serious as before.

There are reasons to be positive.

In the north west, when cases started to surge when the Delta variant took hold, surge testing and a push on vaccinations helped to get the virus back under control relatively quickly.

Whenever and wherever Covid infections have started to rise, they are now met with a wall of immunity.

So the delay – unwelcome though it may be – could give us the breathing space we need to beat the virus once and for all.

Crucially, it will certainly allow more people to receive two doses of the vaccine.

What it comes down to, is that an extra period of restrictions is a small price to pay if it means that the current lockdown is the last one that we have to endure.

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