Boris Johnson is right that we have to live with Covid, but he’s not making it easy | Simon Jenkins
Managing the pandemic is a balance of personal liberty and public safety, and the government needs to tread a fine line
Eighteen months is a long time in Covid politics. Boris Johnson’s much-flagged series of announcements this week for the UK will mark his route “back to normal” and to “learning to live with the disease”. Like most people, he has matured over the past year, a journey from carelessness to panic to pragmatism. The journey was never about “following the science”. It was following the politics by cherrypicking the science, as with the initial decision over herd immunity. First the cry was herd immunity, then it was test and trace, now it is vaccination. And it is vaccination that has given Johnson his window back to normality. He owes a mighty debt to pharmacological science.
The cabinet, still drenched in the new Tory authoritarianism, is reportedly not ready to dismantle the grim edifice of the 2020 emergency Coronavirus Act, licensing the government to control crowds, detain and surveil the public, in order to stop the pandemic. The act needs renewing every six months and is now coming due. Johnson has acknowledged the public’s exhaustion with the controls that have dictated life in Britain for the past year and a half. They have forced him to ban families from their loved ones’ deathbeds, empty our mountains and beaches, and cripple a million livelihoods, all for the sake of bureaucratic one-size-fits-all. But Tory backbenchers see the 2020 act as embodying “the most draconian detention powers in modern British legal history”. They want its blood.