STEPHEN GLOVER: Overseas business execs to visit UK without quarantine

STEPHEN GLOVER: Ministers say they will let overseas business people come to the UK without quarantine… this final Covid insult makes us second class citizens in our own country

Boris Johnson has promised a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It will begin next spring and probably trundle on for several years.

His intention is that its conclusions, which could well embarrass the Government, shouldn’t be allowed to influence the outcome of the next election. When it eventually does appear, Boris may have already moved on to lusher and more lucrative pastures.

Questions likely to be considered by the inquiry include: What went wrong and why? Who was to blame? And what can be done to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again?

I expect that the lately departed Health Secretary Matt Hancock is sweating a good deal. The Prime Minister himself has cause to have some sleepless nights, though he is not the worrying kind.

Boris Johnson has promised a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It will begin next spring and probably trundle on for several years

Intrusive

Useful though the inquiry is, I doubt it will begin to address the most important question of all. How was it possible in freedom-loving Britain for the State to seize control of our lives, and micro-manage them to the extent it has?

I’m not a libertarian in the mould of former Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption, who appears to regard all Covid restrictions as coercive and intrusive. 

I believe the authorities had to adopt reasonable measures to curb the spread of the virus, and these included lockdowns.

But in many areas the Government has claimed enormous powers over our lives which few would have thought possible, and certainly not desirable, before the beginning of the pandemic.

These powers are frequently riddled with inconsistencies, illogicalities and unfairnesses. It is as though we are ruled by a Government which combines the surveillance of the Stasi with the incompetence of the Keystone Cops.

We are ruled by a Government which combines the surveillance of the Stasi with the incompetence of the Keystone Cops

Take travel. If we visit an ‘amber’ country — which means the whole of Europe apart from a few small countries such as Malta and Iceland — we are all required to quarantine at home for ten days following our return, though the period can be shortened by paying for an extra test.

Well, not quite all of us. If you are a grand business person or a UEFA panjandrum visiting the UK in connection with the European Championship, you can be exempted from quarantine.

What kind of government could dream up such idiocy? Being forced to shut oneself away for ten days is inconvenient and not terribly good for one’s mental health. But a businessman whose trip is deemed to be of ‘significant economic benefit’ or a football VIP — why, sir, please come in!

Are elite business people and football officials superior to musicians, plumbers, farmers or common-or-garden tourists? In Boris Johnson’s Britain, you bet they are.

It’s pretty obvious to most people, except Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, that any law, however tough or ludicrous it may be, must be applied equally to everyone.

I write with some feeling because I am myself under quarantine at home, having returned from amber Italy a few days ago. 

I knew this would be the case when I left for Italy. I understood that I would have to pay for three tests — one before coming back and two after my return — costing more than £200.

All the same, it is practically ludicrous that I should be forced to quarantine since the current Covid infection rate in Italy is less than five per cent of the UK’s, and in any case I am double-jabbed.

I expect that the lately departed Health Secretary Matt Hancock is sweating a good deal over a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic

Yet every day I am telephoned by someone from NHS Test and Trace who asks me whether I am quarantining at home, and instructs me on no account to visit my GP or a pharmacy or a hospital if I develop Covid symptoms. Every call is exactly the same.

At least I have not — so far — suffered the experience of 88-year-old actress Joan Collins, who described in the Mail earlier this week how she was visited at home by a ‘Covid Quarantine Officer’. He officiously questioned her and her husband about their adherence to quarantine rules. This is happening in modern Britain.

Imagine the cost of paying these usually young interrogators to read off their questions to tens of thousands of people. Test and Trace, which has been allocated a whopping £37 billion, has been described as ‘the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time’ by a former head of the Treasury.

The young Test and Trace employees are wasting their time. I, and thousands in my position, are also wasting our time by being made to stay at home. And the country is wasting billions of pounds which might as well be sluiced down the drain.

How monstrously unfair that a Government which has the gall to subject its citizens to this ridiculous palaver should arbitrarily exempt hand-picked business people and football grandees from its meddlesome restrictions.

Banished

Former Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox rightly tweeted on Tuesday that the Government’s exemptions for the favoured, while lesser mortals are required to self-isolate, make us ‘second-class citizens in our own country’.

The best solution would be to treat those of us who have come from amber countries with much lower infection rates than the UK in the same way as the privileged few. Get rid of these onerous and unnecessary rules, and set us free!

I realise, of course, that it’s not only travellers who are being wrongly confined in their own homes. Thousands of children who have been in contact with an infected person have been banished from their schools, though the Government says this inhumane practice will end by September.

Thousands of children who have been in contact with an infected person have been banished from their schools, though the Government says this inhumane practice will end by September (file photo)

Other blameless people have found themselves ‘pinged’ if they have supposedly been in contact with someone with the virus, and so are made to quarantine even if they have been double-jabbed. This injurious requirement will reportedly soon be scrapped.

But when? How long will these unfair and often inconsistent rules persist? If so-called Freedom Day does happen on July 19, only some of them will fall away. The double-jabbed who visit amber countries are unlikely to be spared quarantining before August.

Socialist

The truth is that Government ministers have grown so used to micro-managing our lives, and in many cases are so fond of it, that they are reluctant to give up their new-found powers.

Although I’m hopeful new Health Secretary Sajid Javid will be more liberal and open-minded than his control-freak predecessor Matt Hancock, nobody can be sure he will. Political office can play strange tricks.

Although I’m hopeful new Health Secretary Sajid Javid will be more liberal and open-minded than his control-freak predecessor Matt Hancock, nobody can be sure he will. Political office can play strange tricks

After all, Boris Johnson — once virtually the most libertarian politician in the country — has gradually been converted by the scientists of Sage into a strikingly illiberal character. Most of his Tory freedom-loving instincts have been submerged. He might almost be a socialist.

One day the curse of Covid will finally ebb away, and then even the most interfering politicians will find it hard to justify hanging on to their intrusive powers.

The fact remains that for a time England — Nicola Sturgeon’s Scotland is even worse — has been turned into a frighteningly authoritarian country of which Orwell’s Big Brother would have been proud.

A proper inquiry should go beyond the issue of who did what wrong, which we already largely know, and ask this more important question: What must we do to ensure that our precious freedoms are never taken away again?

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