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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

"Rules for thee but not for me": The role of leaders in containing COVID-19

n Jan. 19, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that many of the more stringent measures Britain had taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic would officially end on Jan. 26. Since the end of January, those in Britain are no longer required to wear masks indoors or show NHS COVID Passes to enter public venues, and the government no longer advises people to work remotely. Additionally, the government announced that they intend to end the legal requirement for those who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate. The current regulations are set to expire on March 24, after which they will not be renewed. Along with this announcement, Johnson continued to encourage British citizens, among whom 65% of eligible people are fully vaccinated and boosted, to practice cautious behavior like handwashing and ventilating rooms, and he urged those who remain unvaccinated to step forward and receive their vaccines.

This news was both encouraging yet frustrating for many British nationals who are criticizing British government officials for engaging in 16 so-called "lockdown parties" in flagrant violation of the strict COVID-19 measures which were in place at the height of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this attitude of "rules for thee and not for me" taken by many prominent politicians has only hurt efforts to get people to comply with necessary public health measures. The fact is that politicians and public health officials have even more of a moral responsibility to follow their own guidance and lead their constituents by example. In the world of COVID-19, it should always be “do as I do, not just do as I say.”

Sue Gray, senior British civil servant, completed an investigation into this behavior, most of which took place at 10 Downing Street (the prime minister’s official residence). In her report, she concluded that the behavior of leading officials indicates "failures of leadership and judgment.” She argued that the conduct at these lockdown parties was "difficult to justify" at a time where British people had to shoulder the responsibility of "far-reaching restrictions on their lives."

The publication of this inquiry has called into question the effectiveness of Johnson's government, which is losing its support in Parliament and in the eyes of the general public. It would take only 54 members of the prime minister's own party withdrawing their support to trigger a vote of no confidence.

Johnson's management of the COVID-19 pandemic has been marked by inconsistency and hypocrisy. His withdrawal of the vaccine mandate for NHS workers, which includes nurses and other hospital staff, has only served to encourage further the rising anti-vaccine movement in Great Britain led by figures such as Katie Hopkins. While some may find the prospect of mandates unappealing, in this case, it's the failed implementation of the policy which has raised eyebrows.

But there's another aspect to Johnson's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which reflects a broader mindset shift among governments and public health officials: What if there is no post-COVID-19? In a recent speech, Dr. Anthony Fauci asserted that "if you look at the history of infectious diseases, we've only eradicated one infectious disease in man, and that's smallpox. That's not going to happen with this virus." Boris Johnson himself acknowledged the inevitable persistence of the virus, stating that we "must learn to live with COVID in the same way we live with flu."

Therefore, Johnson's relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions can be viewed as a recognition, on his part, that COVID-19 is here to stay. The goal has shifted to minimizing the spread of the coronavirus while also recognizing the need to return to some sense of normalcy. I suspect that many governments will begin to fall in line and relax restrictions while continuing the public health campaigns for more people to get vaccinated.

It's still too early to tell whether the prime minister made the right decision in regard to the pandemic, and it remains to be seen if the United States will soon follow suit. If the U.S. does ultimately decide to relax restrictions, it is important to remember that no provision or law can excuse us from the duty we have toward others.

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