Today is England’s last day under Plan B restrictions, brought in by the government at the beginning of last month to curb the spread of Omicron. Work-from-home guidance was scrapped last week, while mandatory face coverings in shops and on public transport — as well as the need to show vaccine passports at large venues — are to be lifted tomorrow.
Was there any point in these restrictions in the first place? We will never know, of course, what would have happened had the government not brought them in — no one has conducted a controlled experiment on an identical England where Plan B was never introduced.
But what we can do is to compare Covid death rates in England, where most restrictions were lifted on 19 July until Plan B came in last month, with death rates in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where tougher restrictions outlasted those in England. In Scotland, the mask mandate was never lifted. Vaccine passports for large venues were introduced in the country on 1 October last year, in Wales on 11 October and in Northern Ireland on 29 November. On work-from-home guidance (reintroduced last month), Wales was militant — it became a criminal offence to go to work if you could feasibly do your job at home. Northern Ireland retained restrictions on the number of people who could meet indoors.
And the results? Since 19 July, England has had 21,098 Covid deaths — a rate of 37.3 per 100,000 people. Wales had 1,195, a rate of 37.7, Scotland had 2,422, a rate of 44.3 and Northern Ireland had 914, a rate of 48.2.
There are many factors behind Covid deaths, of course, and socioeconomic conditions are different in each of the four UK nations (although thanks to its larger conurbations you might have thought England was most vulnerable). But the figures certainly don’t suggest that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have gained anything through implementing tighter rules on face masks, social gatherings, vaccine passports, working from home etc. — indeed, in terms of death rate, they have come off worse. By implication, it is doubtful whether Plan B has had any beneficial effect on fighting Covid in England, either.