As published by The Mail on Sunday:
A major test of any government is knowing when to act and when to hold your nerve.
Sadly, that is a test the Government has just failed.
By jumping to Plan B, and introducing a chaotic range of measures including mask-wearing, working from home and demands for vaccine certification, the Government is guilty of what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction. One that may do enormous economic harm for little gain.
I am deeply sceptical that these restrictions are needed. And so are many other Tory MPs.
The record rebellion against the Government so far has been 55 MPs. It is very likely that number will be exceeded this week, leaving Boris depending on the Opposition to deliver his policy.
Only last week, the Health Secretary stood before the Commons and said that he would not trigger further restrictions unless we saw a rise in hospitalisations.
Yet we are not at that point! The overall number of Covid patients in hospital has steadily been declining since the start of November.
Omicron is very infectious, but so far it does not look very virulent. It is simply too soon to tell for sure.
It was always likely that the virus would mutate and that the new mutation would grow exponentially, just like all the others before them.
In short, last week’s response was nothing more than panic.
It is important to remember the progress we have made so far. The picture was bleak this time last year. The Kent variant was tearing through the population. ‘Tier Four’ restrictions were only days away.
The vaccine programme – a huge gamble – had only just started and had a long way to go in protecting our population. But that was then. Today, things are radically different.
Some 89 per cent of the population over the age of 12 has now had a first vaccination. And 81 per cent have had a second.
YES, new data shows that two doses of the vaccine are less effective against the Omicron variant.
But early evidence shows that after a booster, the vaccines are likely to be just as good at preventing serious illness as they are against the Delta variant.
That’s why what we should be focusing on now is pressing on with the booster programme.
That campaign is well under way with more than 39 per cent now triple-vaccinated – including two-thirds of the over-65s.
Vaccines have proven to be effective, reliable, and accessible, but where is the evidence that vaccine passports work?
France introduced them in the summer and now has more Covid cases than it had at the March peak. Austria, Greece, and the German states that have used them are in the same position, with cases rocketing.
If passports worked, the picture in areas where they had been introduced would be markedly different from that here in England.
The vaccine passports announced last week are not merely ineffective, they are actively dangerous.
This is because people who have been vaccinated think of themselves as safe, and behave accordingly – reinforced by the fact that most or all of the symptoms of Covid are likely to be suppressed.
Vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation. But they are much less effective at preventing you from transmitting your infection to your neighbours, and what protection there is reduces over time – a key fact which is incredibly important to remember and is why the latest restrictions make no sense.
And introducing vaccine passports will reinforce this false sense of security.
They will admit contagious individuals into noisy, packed and poorly ventilated venues and allow them to spread Covid.
How is that ‘following the science’? It is a Government-approved disaster waiting to happen.
Meanwhile, the Government is telling us that we ought to work from home, yet we are still being encouraged to attend Christmas parties and nativity plays.
The newspapers are full of jokes about having to pretend to go to the office party in order to go to work.
Plan B measures are chaotic, confused, and contradictory. Worse, in conjunction with the catastrophic loss of authority caused by ‘Partygate’, it is unlikely that many of the general population will obey. Which is in itself a tragedy.
It was public common sense that allowed the confused, complex and badly administered lockdowns to work. Lose that common sense and that community spirit and you have lost control of the problem.
Instead of issuing ineffective diktats, we should focus our national efforts on meaningful remedies.
Since the earliest days of this pandemic, vaccines have been at the heart of our exit strategy – nothing has changed in this regard. Government data shows that in every age group the unvaccinated are hospitalised at an overwhelmingly higher rate.
Against Omicron, vaccines will continue to play a vital role. We must, therefore, use all the levers of government to supercharge our booster programme.
We are averaging 440,000 total doses a day. Yet during the pandemic, our daily average peaked at 602,000. Today, we need to be closer to one million shots per day.
That means boosting capacity, availability and the ease of access for hard-to-reach groups.
With each booster dose, we move closer to normality and further away from excessive restrictions. But alongside that, we must rapidly roll out new therapies.
For example, last month Pfizer announced the successful trial of a new treatment called Paxlovid.
The trial showed the drug to be roughly 90 per cent successful at stopping hospitalisation and death. This has the potential to revolutionise the fight against the virus in the way the vaccines did this time last year.
However, unlike vaccinations, these antiviral pills give a much better chance of avoiding the never-ending arms race against a mutating virus.
They are also easier to take and can be administered at home in the early stages of an infection. This will drastically ease pressure on an NHS that is already strained with backlogs and the inevitable winter surge we see each year.
Combined with our vaccination strategy, new therapies such as Paxlovid can help fight any rise in infections such as the one we are seeing at the moment.
Paxlovid looks to be at least 90 per cent effective.
Ten days ago I asked the Prime Minister what the Government was doing to do to rapidly secure supplies of this treatment.
While the answer given was positive – we have secured hundreds of thousands of courses of the drug – it is nothing like enough. Remember, the Prime Minister’s own advisers are predicting a million infections by Christmas.
Why did we not learn the lessons from the vaccine programme and turbocharge the approval regime for these drug therapies?
In January, a raft of potential drug therapies was under consideration, and some of the Government’s scientific advisers were advocating a fast development strategy and creation of drug manufacturing capacity such as that used for vaccines. This did not happen.
So the drug is still pending approval by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which was praised for its bold and proactive and approach to vaccine approval.
Even if belatedly, the same must be done now with Paxlovid and similar treatments.
We simply cannot continue with the destructive cycle of lifting restrictions in the summer only to impose them again in winter.
Our economy cannot take any further beatings.
Documents leaked from the Treasury in October suggest that the Plan B proposals would cause up to £18 billion worth of damage to the UK economy if in place for five months.
And research from the Institute of Economic Affairs backs up that cost, suggesting restrictions will cause a hit of £4 billion a month.
Our high streets, independent businesses and hospitality sector will be consigned to history with further damage.
As the Health Secretary has warned, we may have more than one million Omicron cases by the end of the year.
These new restrictions will do nothing to stop that.
We must learn to live with the virus – and that means throwing out these ill-thought out, damaging and confused policies.