Since 1999, healthcare among countries in the UK has operated politically as a devolved matter.
In the subsequent decades since these partitions, scholars like Greer have recognised different emergent cultures in the execution of health services; English policy fostered choice and competition with the ultimate aim of ‘customer satisfaction’, Scottish policy was much more professionally dominated, Welsh lawmakers, refocused on intersectoral and preventative work for public health, while Northern Ireland’s healthcare politics were based on a tacit agreement that there were more pressing issues to address.
The unprecedented nature of the Omicron strain caused panic in much more established medical institutions across the globe and since Christmas 2021, a variety of rules and restrictions make up the UK’s “unified” approach. Perhaps confusingly, Wales mandated the strictest social distancing—a return to two metres—and diverged from Scotland and Northern Ireland in reserving a hospitality exception to indoor mask-wearing.
Vaccination rates vary across the UK. 62.8% of Scots and 52.2% of people in Northern Ireland are the recipients of a booster or third dose. From the 11th of January, English recipients of a positive lateral flow test have no longer had to take an affirming PCR, considered by some to be expressive of a new intention to ‘live with Covid’.
Trends of policy across Europe indicate that cultural and political norms inform restrictions more significantly than vaccination rates; Iceland has delivered the most vaccines per capita and yet has more comprehensive restriction rules than even the most cautious regions of the UK—a maximum of 50 people, mask-wearing, and two-metre distancing in shops and museums.
The achieved efficacy of any guidance implemented in England appears to be much more reflective of the Conservatives’ political reality than science and statistics. Retrospective scandals breaking before Christmas are likely to have broken the Government’s self-assuredness; YouGov polling of Westminster voting intention either side of the alleged Downing Street parties breaking indicates a 6% decrease in support for the Conservatives.
The uniquely individualistic nature of the party has also been impactful; 100 Conservative MPs opposed the introduction of Covid passes in England with MP Miriam Cates stating that the handling of the coronavirus pandemic has affected a “permanent change to the understanding of what liberty is.”
A fundamental reframing of a crucial tenet of conservatism has led to projections of Boris Johnson potentially losing his seat and calls from backbenchers for his resignation. Due to such internal issues, the ‘Plan B’ measures could not have passed without Labour support, though recurrent episodes of ‘sleaze’ seem to have made cross-party consensus difficult for opposition parties to reconcile with their voters.
Across the political spectrum, there is a growing body of lockdown and restriction opponents, no matter the death or daily case data. Motivations vary, whether set in the bodily autonomy not to be vaccinated, beliefs of freedom, or mistrust after the perceived hypocrisy of the Government. Former Conservative minister Tim Loughton stated that “we cannot head for the hills with kneejerk emergency measures every time a new variant comes along”, exemplifying the political difficulties and inherent controversy in executing any healthcare policy. Loughton’s quote speaks to Conservative in-fighting and the battle between ‘living with Covid’ and carefully considering spikes in cases.
For the effective execution of any coronavirus mandates, the Conservatives need to re-instil the British (especially English) public with confidence in the party.
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