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The pandemic

Learning to live with Covid

Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

“Hope, at last,” says Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. All legal lockdown restrictions will end in England on 19 July. Even mask-wearing will become a matter of personal choice: “I choose to burn mine.” I’ve only worn the wretched thing “to make others feel comfortable”. Covid case numbers may be rising significantly, but hospitalisations and deaths are not, which suggests the whole thing is under control. It’s like living in an earthquake zone: you prepare for the worst, but you don’t walk around, “knees bent, holding on to the furniture”, acting as if an earthquake is happening right now. Nor should we act as if Covid will kill us all, “because it won’t”. Boris is on the right track: it’s time to “man up and get on with our lives”.

Freedom Day won’t be the “triumphant moment” many are hoping for, says James Forsyth in The Spectator. “The Delta variant has seen to that.” Nervous ministers will be busy trying to look responsible, conspicuously wearing masks in crowded places instead of “gleefully” returning to freedom. And the political feelgood factor won’t last. The conversation will soon move on to the backlogs that have built up in the past 18 months – particularly in education, the NHS and the justice system. The question Johnson will have to start answering is: “What do you intend to do about them?”

I was trained as a scientist, says Sam Fazeli in Bloomberg, so when the PM set out the details of Britain’s grand reopening, “alarm bells started ringing”. But I’ve come to the realisation that he’s right – it’s time to “bite the bullet”, despite the risks. We could wait even longer, until the vaccination rate is even higher, but “what is the magic number, and when would we have hit it”? The only thing I don’t get is why we’re removing the mask mandate. Leaving the decision to wear a face covering to individuals is like removing speed limits on all roads, or saying that wearing a seatbelt is optional. I get that it’s a nasty symbol of the pandemic, “but there is still a pandemic”.

We have known for months, says Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman, that wearing masks, particularly indoors, where airborne infection is most likely, can make transmission “near impossible”. It is one of the most effective things individuals can do, it’s cheap and it’s relatively unobtrusive “in short stints”. A study published last September found that masks can block 99.9% of Covid droplets.

Yet mask-wearing has become “intensely politicised”, more so than any other health measure in the pandemic. Covid sceptics and deniers believe the government want us “yoked” or “muzzled” merely as a means of “control”. Mask opponents raise a valid question: “When does this all end?” Many epidemiologists would argue the answer should be “not right now”. Perhaps the simplest answer, says Charles Moore in The Spectator, is to have “mask and non-mask” sections on trains, “like the smoking and no-smoking ones of old”.