'Party Saturday' Could Lead To Coronavirus Infection Spikes, Tory Ex-Minister Warns

George Freeman tells HuffPost UK he is "worried" about Boris Johnson's decision to ease lockdown and reopen pubs at a weekend.

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Boris Johnson’s decision to lift lockdown on a Saturday risks creating a “party” mentality that could lead to local spikes in coronavirus infections, a Tory former minister has warned.

George Freeman told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast he is worried people may “overdo it” as pubs and restaurants reopen on Saturday.

He said he would have preferred a continuation of the approach that has seen the lockdown eased more gently, with the last new freedoms being introduced on June 1 – a Monday.

The MP also called for all schoolchildren to be given cheap laptops to keep for life, to help them learn at home, suggesting they could go on to use the equipment to start a business.

And he suggested that, were he American, he would “struggle” to vote for Donald Trump in the US presidential election this year as he has driven a “worrying” mentality that is “hostile” to science in his response to coronavirus.

Addressing this weekend’s lockdown easing, the former transport minister told Commons People: “I’m a bit worried by the kind of ‘party Saturday’ risk that everyone just overdoes it.

“I thought the approach of just gently easing the lockdown restrictions was rather better, and I suspect there will be a few hangovers on Sunday, Monday.

“And also I fear there may well be some very localised spikes.

“Maybe not, maybe this virus is going to be kept back by the sunshine and the heat.

“That was always part of the thinking – I went to a Cobra on coronavirus back in February and that was the advice then – it was felt that the virus would retreat back in the summer.”

Former transport minister George Freeman
Former transport minister George Freeman
PA Archive/PA Images

Freeman meanwhile said he was “really worried” about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on education.

He turned his fire on teaching unions who have been resistant to an earlier full reopening of schools on safety grounds, saying their actions stood in “in stark contrast” to the “magnificent” sacrifices of health and care workers during the crisis.

But Freeman also stressed that the government should have acted more boldly and decisively to ensure children were still educated outside school.

The Mid Norfolk MP said he would like to have seen a “bulk order” of electronic notebooks, noting that they only cost “around a hundred quid”.

“If we’d bought and supplied a notebook to every school-age child I think it would have been a real contribution to helping them learn. Keep the laptops, start a business with it, do whatever, become a games entrepreneur,” he said.

“This is just a moment to do some bold things we don’t normally do.”

Freeman is currently working on an international commission on health economy and said it was “very worrying” to see Trump turn his back on international cooperation after the US president bought up almost the entire world’s stock of coronavirus treatment Remdesivir.

The former life sciences minister recalled visiting the US with then-PM David Cameron to collaborate on a cancer project being run by then-vice president Joe Biden, who will be Trump’s opponent in this autumn’s presidential election.

By contrast, Americans involved in public health and science now are being left “feeling that their own country is beginning to become hostile to the things science does well and really requires”.

“If I was an American I’d be quite worried about that because it is fundamental to their ability to drive technological leadership and to hold the flag high for western values.”

Asked if he could vote for Trump if he were American, Freeman said: “I think it’s very clear that from what I’ve said I would really struggle if I was an American citizen to feel that Donald Trump embodies the best of America’s values around the world.

“It’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen an American president who seems to thrive on division, internal division, and I think that is quite worrying and it’s likely to foster division within the western alliance.

“When you’ve got a thinly disguised kleptocracy running Russia, the Middle East in flames, an aggressive and expansionist China pursuing pretty naked economic nationalism, this is no time for the Western alliance to turn in and fight on itself or to withdraw.

“I really hope that we see through this presidency, challenged by Joe Biden, that Donald Trump steps up into a different kind of statesman role than we’ve seen hitherto.”


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