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What price freedom ?!?

Though the nation’s aflutter with footie, the longed-for unlockdown’s also on all our minds. And fingers are crossed the economy-salvaging experiment will pay off – in the short, medium and long term. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, bullish Boris knows he can’t be sure.

The rationale behind England becoming the least restricted country in Europe is straightforward enough.

Yes, the new Health Secretary admits there could be a hundred thousand cases a day, while some say it could be double that.

But no, we’re not seeing a surge in hospitalisations and deaths, as around ninety per cent of adults have had at least one jab.

‘It’s the vaccine that’s working and that’s what gives us the confidence,’ says Sajid Javid.

However, the nation’s top boffin Sir Patrick Vallance cautions: ‘It’s a weakened link, not a completely broken link.’

And more than a hundred experts claim in the medical journal The Lancet that July 19 is ‘dangerous and premature’.

Even the health minister Lord Bethell concedes after that date we’re ‘walking into the unknown’.

But the hope is a combination of warm weather and school holidays will help to keep case numbers down.

And health select committee chair Jeremy Hunt points out the projected death toll’s less than a bad flu year.

So, snorts Boris Johnson, ‘if not now, then when?’

Certainly, it’s a race against time, in money terms.

So far, unemployment, debt and earnings have not got a lot worse as a result of the pandemic.

Something Britain’s top economic think tank, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, finds ‘astonishing’.

It’s largely down to the furlough scheme and the twenty-pound-a-week universal credit top-up. But both are due to come to an end in the autumn.

Meantime, the Labour leader’s picked up on the four-week delay on relaxing the isolation rule for people ‘pinged’ by the NHS app.

Surely that means, he insisted at Prime Minister’s question time, ‘we are heading for a summer of chaos and confusion?’

It was a full four seconds before Bojo finally dragged himself to his feet and muttered: ‘….er, no, Mr Speaker…’

Point taken though.

He later decided fewer fully vaccinated people will have to stay home for ten days if they’ve been near a positive case.

After numbers shot up more than sixty per cent in a week, the app’s sensitivity will now be reduced.

But Johnson’s hedging his bets, shifting the wearing of masks from government to personal responsibility.

The subtle message being if it does all go wrong it’s somehow not all the government’s fault.

Nonetheless, it seems there’s something primordial in the wish not to wrap cloth round our chops.

We’re even, according to scientists, hardwired to see faces in everyday objects like clouds, the moon, and tree trunks.

Prof David Alais, leading a study from Sydney uni’s psychology school, says it’s about evolution, and done in milliseconds.

‘We need to read the identity of the face .. its expression. Are they a friend or a foe? Are they happy, sad, angry, pained?’

Fat chance, when half of it’s invisible.

Still, there are plenty of smiles around now that the government’s opened up travel to so-called amber list countries.

This means double-jabbed folk can, in a week or so, travel to a hundred and forty places without isolating when they get back.

Upshot? Airlines have reported a five-fold rise in bookings.

There’s also been talk of a one-day holiday for all, on the back of the World Cup.

The thinking being victory for England could trigger a special bank holiday, maybe called St Gareth’s Day. Who knows?

Intriguing to behold, though totally unsurprising, Johnson’s hitherto undetected love of the Beautiful Game.

Some say it was originally played with the severed heads of vanquished enemies. Certainly, doing well does cheer people up. And vice versa.

Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell admitted in his diaries Tony was secretly relieved England got knocked out in 1996.

A win, he feared, could have breathed fresh life into John Major’s flagging premiership.

Some even say Harold Wilson blamed England’s exit from the World Cup in 1970 for his election defeat.

It’s all about what happens on a PM’s watch, regardless of his or her zero input to the proceedings. Same applies to Johnson’s ‘vaccine bounce’ in the polls.

Credit where it’s due, Matt Hancock did push hard for a punt on the jab.

Though his mum might say: ‘He’s not the Health Secretary, he’s just a very naughty boy.’

Picture him, standing naked at an open window, looking down on an adoring crowd? Maybe not.

Fact remains the real messiahs are the scientists and the NHS, not him. And not the PM, who just got lucky. Like with the footie.

But whoever you support, and whether you love or hate the game, this year’s tournament has thrown up heartwarming stories.

One such concerns a young man called Sam Astley, whose girlfriend had won tickets for last Wednesday’s match.

Instead of going to the stadium he booked himself into hospital, to donate stem cells, as a match of a different kind had been found.

His selfless act earned him heaps of praise, and led to strenuous efforts to get him into the final.

But, bless him, he couldn’t quite see what the fuss was about.

Missing the semi-final was not a tough decision, he said, as ‘no football game is more important than saving someone’s life’.

But it clearly felt a bit life-or-death to one little German girl, pictured sobbing her heart out after her team lost at Wembley.

And worse was to follow.

Some peculiarly nasty fans abused her online, linking her nationality to Germany’s Nazi past.

Of course the poor kid had no more to do with that than the Anglo-Saxon migration in the Dark Ages.

And former soccer star Stan Collymore was so outraged he shared screen grabs of the offending tweets.

Next, a guy called Joel Hughes, from Pontypridd, set up a JustGiving page to prove ‘not everyone from the UK is horrible’.

Seems not. Within days no less than thirty-six grand had been donated.

And the best of it is the child’s wish to use it to help others, via the United Nations’ children’s agency. Her parents’ statement reads:

‘Our daughter would like to request your generous donations go to UNICEF, knowing that your kindness will do good.’

How many pretty frocks could that girl have bought herself with that money? How cool is she then?

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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