OPINION: For millions, Freedom Day might prove to be a life sentence

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OPINION: For millions, Freedom Day might prove to be a life sentence

David Garfinkel reflects on the painful loss of his father to Covid and the responsibilities we share now restrictions have eased.

David's father Ivor, who passed away earlier this month.
David's father Ivor, who passed away earlier this month.

Someone killed my dad. We will never know who and neither will they.

On 11 August at 3.03pm my father’s life support was turned off at Chelsea and Westminster ICU.

He passed away after a battle against Covid, a disease that lasted a mere 11 days from when he first tested positive.

He was one of the three million shielders in the UK who effectively on ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July was given a stark choice. Stay a prisoner in your own home or take a risk with your life whenever now venturing out.

He was 76-years-old. Double vaccinated. And had an underlying condition which he needed to take steroids for to suppress his immune system. But he wasn’t terminally-ill or knocking on death’s door. He was full of life and vigour and hope.

A proud man, often stubborn – who isn’t at that age – he was never going to spend the remainder of his life simply trapped inside for ever more. He had worked hard for well over 40 years, paid all his taxes and dues to society.

Over the last 18 months he tried to take every precaution possible to avoid Covid. He did his part to protect himself and the NHS. His hope was to live out his retirement safely and peacefully, something we should all have a right to.

And then came Freedom Day. A politically charged decision to allow this country to pretend Covid wasn’t a thing any more; it was something we would have to learn to live with.

The modelling showed hundreds could potentially die each day as we moved to zero restrictions. Many scientists still urged great caution. But the government did not seem to listen. Economics and pressure from within the Tory party and certain business sectors triumphed over the sanctity of human life. And possibly common sense.

And with it millions of people who were shielding were given a stark choice – gamble with your life if you dare.

Yes, our government called on people to take personal responsibility and urged caution. But they unlocked every aspect of society before many younger people were vaccinated, and well before older people had received a booster jab – despite mounting evidence from Israel, months ahead in this great Covid experiment, showing vaccine antibodies beginning to wane in older people and ‘breakthrough’ cases beginning to rise.

Even in Israel mask wearing has returned to many public settings as cases continue to rise. Yet here, some people are blithely pretending there isn’t a killer in the air.

We live in hope that the vaccines work. Only time will tell. But that time wasn’t afforded to my dad.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be now for anyone who is old and vulnerable, or young with an underlying medical condition, to think about going outside as case numbers run rampant.

My dad didn’t go to the pub for a pint. He didn’t watch a film in the cinema, go to a gym or a football match. Nor a plane for a trip abroad. He didn’t see friends, go on public transport, go to restaurants or even regularly see us, his family.

When we did meet he still largely stayed outside, with a mask on, cautious and aware. Still keeping his distance. All he did was go to the shops to buy food and attend his medical appointments.

That was enough to kill him.

I have heard a lot of talk about lockdown and masks being an infringement of civil liberties. I have heard people say they have done their bit during lockdown and now we need to get back to normal. It’s not something I believed, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect that. I also understand that the economy itself is vital to livelihood and lives – but balance is key.

All my dad did was go to the shops to buy food and attend his medical appointments. That was enough to kill him.

Of course we now live in hope the vaccines work – and currently, for the majority of people, maybe this is true. Only time will tell.

But that time wasn’t afforded to my dad. And for the three million people who were shielding during lockdown, Freedom Day might well have become nothing more than a life sentence.

My dad died long before his time. He died because we are in a pandemic but people out there have decided to exercise their right to not wear a mask in a public space or shop, to not socially distance, to not test themselves or isolate if feeling unwell.

So the next time you see the stats that say ‘100 more Covid deaths today’ and think ‘well that’s not too bad’. Remember that behind every number is a real person. With families. Wives and husbands. Sons and daughters. Brothers and sisters. Grandchildren. And friends.

We encourage our two teenage children to regularly test. When they go to a small party now, all the kids are having to show a negative lateral flow test. It’s part of the way they can get back to a semblance of normal life while ensuring they can protect not just themselves, but everyone else they come into contact with. It’s the price they pay for living with Covid. My 16-year-old son has now had one dose of the vaccine. My 14-year-old daughter will do the same when it is available.

So please. In memory of my dad. Who spent his whole life caring for and helping other people. Please vaccinate. Continue to wear a mask and keep your distance where you can, especially if you may be around older, more vulnerable people. And continue to regularly test – not just so you can get on a plane to go on holiday. But so you can help save lives. It isn’t much to ask. It isn’t a massive imposition.

It’s how we live with Covid and keep everyone, including the vulnerable, safe.

• David Garfinkel is a former managing editor of Jewish News.

For the latest info on the NHS’ vaccination programme, CLICK HERE


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