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14 September 2021

England’s latest Covid-19 failures threaten another lockdown

The government was too slow to learn from other countries on jabs for teenagers and is still behind on vaccine passports.

By Stephen Bush

Jabs for teenagers are in, vaccine passports are out, as Boris Johnson prepares to unveil his latest wheeze for the final end of lockdown. One of the things about Covid-19 – and, indeed, any novel pandemic – is that to respond to it effectively, politicians and officials have to be time travellers: they have to understand that the decisions they make today are shaped and limited by decisions they made a fortnight ago, and that the decisions they make today place limitations on their future freedom to manoeuvre. 

That task is difficult, but politicians on top of their brief have a handy way to glimpse the future called “other countries”. In the case of jabs for teenagers, they don’t even have to learn another language as we know full well that the return to schools has driven a rise in cases in Scotland. Then, if we turn our eyes a little further than the Outer Hebrides, we can see that across Europe and much of the Western world, Covid-19 vaccines are being approved for teenagers. And then, from a basic common-sense perspective, teenagers and their parents should be able to choose between the known risks of receiving a vaccine for a disease that, in the short term, carries a low direct risk, against the unknown risks of the long-term prognosis for anyone with a mild or hidden case of coronavirus in the future.

And on vaccine passports: at risk of sounding like a stuck record, if it’s good enough for anyone visiting a country or part of a country with high levels of tuberculosis or yellow fever, it’s good enough to allow an easing of the byzantine and, frankly, easily gamed testing regime at British borders. And it’s good enough for large-scale events with a still serious outbreak across our country. 

Some of the failure to learn from elsewhere is a broad failure of the political class (every major party leader in England has either set out their opposition to vaccine passports or conceded to their party’s internal critics); some of it is a failure of the British medical establishment; and some of it is specific to the governing Conservatives. But taken together, it means the prospects for England’s final unlocking are not as good as they could be, and the possibility that it won’t be as final as we might hope.

[See also: How the UK has been overtaken by other European countries on Covid-19 vaccines]

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