First off - masks. There is an old adage that the best bullshit is largely based in truth. Of course face coverings have an effect on the passing on of nasties you don't want to be passed on - largely protecting other people from the mask wearer. Protective face coverings of course existed before the pandemic. However, disposable surgical masks are designed as part of a suite of PPE to be worn by highly trained professionals who will ensure it is brand new out the packet, know that they can't touch it, and once it comes off it goes into the bin. Indeed the PPE scandal at the start of the pandemic was that hospitals were being expected to re-use disposable PPE as they did not have enough new stock to go around.
Yet now that PPE supply is plentiful and can be done right, even the most ardent mask wearer does not go around with a box of masks, diligently taking a brand new one out of the packet and discarding the old one every single time it comes off their face. Nor do more eco-friendly people wearing washable cloth masks possible own enough of them to do the same (nor I suspect are many people washing them separately on a high temperature to ensure they are sanitary before being reused). Instead someone is simply pulling an often well-used mask out of their coat pocket where it is stored amongst their keys and their phone and then breathing through it. How healthy is that for the wearer, and how much has the protection accorded by the mask degraded as it wears? What technical standards are these masks even being made to (particularly the designer washable ones which have swamped the market)? Do any standards even have to be met before you can sell a face covering on the UK market? If not, how do we know how well they're working?
We've ended up wearing one small element of PPE, with almost no one using it properly and yet we go on and on and on about the importance of mask wearing as if this is the key to the pandemic, with every list of restrictions seeking out more opportunities to wear masks and proposals to remove mask wearing seemingly the most controversial thing to suggest.
Is there any modelling for how much transmission is actually being prevented by face coverings? We've had two lockdowns and are now in the 3rd wave of the 'mask era'. Are we actually saying without face coverings it would be significantly worse? And if face coverings are so important and have been effective, why not invest money in bulking up the production of better masks, make them available for affordable prices and then set something like an N95 as the baseline? I suspect we don't do that because we don't really know.
Second - the importance of Covid. We are still clearly in a place where we have Covid ranked not just as the number 1 public health emergency (which of course it is) but it is actually still the number 1 most important thing around which the running of the country revolves. Doctors and scientists have it nicely rationalised away that it would be unethical if someone died of an infectious disease if there was anything that could have been done to prevent it. That sounds like a no-brainer, but we are now 16 months into this with no end in sight, with the risk clearly not gone and not going to go soon. Every time we reach that 'just a little bit longer' which is asked for, some other threat emerges which means we still can't go back to normal. The effects of the attempts to control the virus HAVE and WILL CONTINUE to cause death, whether that's directly or indirectly from reduced life expectancy after people having their lives destroyed or being pushed into poverty from the huge tax increases we will all see to pay for this. There must be modelling done on the impact of these restrictions and the least worst outcome taken. It must be made public (for one thing if I'm wrong it'll shut me up). And if it determines that actually not implementing a restriction/further lockdown leading to the NHS exceeding capacity, whilst unquestionably a terrible outcome, is actually the least worst path in terms of how much damage will be done and how many lives will be lost, then I'm afraid that's what we must do. We are still in a place where we won't even consider it. The argument that lockdowns are the 'least worse option' only seems to come from doctors and scientists (or people informed by doctors and scientists) who are fully signed up to the idea of it being unethical not to lockdown if that's necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. That's not truly examining what the least worst option is at all. There is often talk of 'finding a balance'. There is no balance. If the current wave continues to rise and hospitalisations put the NHS at risk, we WILL lock down again, unquestionably, without even thinking about it. That is not a balance. There is often talk of 'learning to live with it'. Unless that means 'learning to be permanently modify and restrict our lives to avoid it', we patently are not doing that if we still view shutting the country down as a viable strategy to control it.
Third - the previously ruled out 'vaccine passport'. That's social apartheid. It creates a society where some people have greater access to it than others. It will never stop at nightclubs, and the decisions as to what needs to be on this list which the great unwashed are shut out from will be made almost entirely on advice from unelected scientific advisors. Regardless of how good the intentions might be, that will never end well.
Putting these things together, the simple reason that masks and basic social distancing, whilst not actually that big an inconvenience, nevertheless cannot carry on is because those that call for them cannot be trusted to leave it at that. We've only had the restrictions gone for 3 days. We got to these case numbers even with the restrictions we had in place before Monday. They clearly weren't enough to turn the tide on the current wave, so why would going back to them become enough and satisfy those who want restrictions? If cases keeps rising and hospitalisations increase significantly, there will never be an acceptance that we can't do anything more intrusive after this much time has gone by. As long as any measures remain in place, as long as we continue to keep treating Covid as a matter of limitless importance, any measures at all will always lead to more measures every time it takes off until enough measures to bring it back under control are introduced. So the only way forward is to have none at all, put everything into research for an effective treatment, everything into keeping the vaccines up to date, everything into turning around the anti-vaccers but we cannot any longer have restrictions on normal life. If we do, how long before this becomes normal?
Think that's all bollocks? Tell me that when compulsory masks come back, quickly followed by curbs on hospitality 'to prevent another lockdown', then followed by Tiers MKIII 'to act now to contain the virus to prevent another lockdown', followed by Lockdown IV 'to protect the NHS and save lives' and we end up with a further year going by, more debates in the winter about whether South Yorkshire police are being too heavy handed in enforcing the lockdown, more debates about kettles in Wales as Drakeford stops supermarkets from selling non essential products but Johnson doesn't, more tut-tutting in the spring as pubs and non essential retail are allowed their now annual brief opening, and then we're still sat here next summer (by then the third 'Covid summer' arguing about masks, whether people should be taking foreign holidays, and whether we are unlocking too soon. The way things are now, it's inevitable until there is a change of mindset on this.