Britain is now reaping the rewards of Freedom Day

The February GDP data will also not yet reflect the full impact of the war in Ukraine or the growing cost-of-living crisis. However, the more timely business surveys suggest that private sector activity remained strong in March and firms are still relatively optimistic about the next 12 months. 

In the meantime, you have to ask what the point of extending the restrictions would have been. Countries that have attempted to eliminate infections completely are failing miserably. China’s strict “dynamic zero” Covid policy is turning out to be a social disaster, as well as crippling the economy.

Even before the end of widespread testing in the UK, and despite lower rates of mask-wearing, Covid cases were no higher here than in most other European countries. Often they were much lower. The widespread assumption that only government restrictions are effective is dubious too. 

The rise in staff absences in the UK is at least evidence that the vast majority of people can behave responsibly without being obliged to isolate by the state. Indeed, irresponsible people are less likely to obey the rules anyway.

It is also right to end “free” testing. The UK has been testing a far higher proportion of the population – and more often – than almost any comparable country. This is what happens when something is “free” on demand. But even if this made sense earlier, it doesn’t now, when Covid is both more prevalent and also less severe.

Above all, by far the most effective public health intervention is the vaccine programme. The proportion of the population that is fully vaccinated is now about the same in the European Union as the UK, but the UK got there quicker.

The success of the vaccines is therefore the game-changer. Locking down the economy was reasonable at the start of the crisis, when no one really understood the risks and it was necessary to buy time. Now, however, the UK economy needs to learn to live with Covid. The latest evidence suggests that it is doing just that.


Julian Jessop is an independent economist. He tweets @julianhjessop

Ben Marlow is away

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