Evening Standard Comment: Let’s go out and enjoy the great indoors ... and get the Covid vaccine

·3-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

Let’s go out and enjoy the great indoors ...

“Madam, sir, come on in! May I wring out your jacket?”

Today, theatres, cinemas, pubs and restaurants open their indoors to a British public having spent weeks shivering with alfresco drinking and dining in torrential rain.

London is on track for a £225 million spending boom this week from the return of hospitality, much needed for a city that has been battered by repeated lockdowns.

This moment has not come a day too soon for thousands of businesses living hand to mouth. Yet the return of the great indoors — while vital — does not mark the end of the crisis for our hospitality sector.

First, while social distancing remains in place, limits constricting the usual number of people a pub or restaurant can serve will remain.

Second, there will still be fewer customers. Because this summer, like last, the capital will not see anything approaching the typical hordes of tourists packing our galleries, hotels and shops. This will inevitably hit revenues.

The Standard has long called for a huge push to encourage domestic tourism and we welcome Sadiq Khan’s campaign, announced last week. We need a concerted effort to encourage people from around the country to visit London and treat the capital as a European city break.

In the meantime, we call on Londoners to go out — but taking care and sticking to the guidelines — to enjoy the delights our great city has to offer. We are in a far better place than before but we are not free of danger yet.

... and get the vaccine

This call for caution is borne in large part from the spread of the Indian variant, now rooted in large parts of the country, including the capital.

If it is proven to be more transmissible than the Kent variant, it will in turn become the dominant strain in the country. We support the Mayor’s call for surge vaccinating in parts of the city where the variant is most widespread.

While the uptake of the vaccine among elderly groups has been high, London has some of the worst areas for vaccine take-up rate in the country. Over the coming weeks, we will be walking a tightrope between opening up and containing infection jumps.

For example, in Kensington and Chelsea only 68 per cent of over-40s have received a first dose of the vaccine. This means that many vulnerable people are still not fully protected.

Over the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that the majority of those in Bolton in hospital with Covid-19 were eligible for the vaccine but had not taken it.

Those declining the jab not only threaten their own lives but that of others and threaten our freedoms. Therefore, in addition to surge vaccination in key areas, we need to redouble our efforts to reach those who have thus far declined the jab.

That means community, religious and trusted local leaders stepping up efforts and going door-to-door to find the unvaccinated.

More concerning is that increasing vaccinations alone will not stop the Indian variant spreading. Intense local testing and track and trace remain urgent, with everyone in this city taking personal responsibility around home testing twice a week and strictly following the new rules.

We may yet see a full lifting of restrictions on June 21 delayed until more of the country is vaccinated. The good news is all the vaccines appear to be effective against the Indian variant. But only one-third of the UK population has received two doses.

And as we open up, there will be a much greater level of infections. And it remains to be seen what the public — and government — will be happy to live with.

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