Writer Joseph Holland argues that constant lockdowns aren’t a valid solution to the pandemic.
But at what cost? That’s the story of coronavirus. The tragic loss of life, liberty, and livelihoods throughout 2020 is too much to begin to quantify. One thing which is for certain is that nobody could ever have predicted that the new decade would have started so bleakly. Way back in March, with cases and deaths ever rising, the hammer-blow that was lockdown seemed to be everything we needed; a means to stem the rising flow of infections and prepare us for the long-term. And I remained resolute in that belief for some time. But, as we re-emerged from lockdown and some semblance of normality returned, I asked myself how we could simultaneously contain the threat of Covid whilst still maintaining the livelihoods we’d worked so hard to protect through some of the extensive financial measures that had been put in place. After much thought, I came to one very simple conclusion: that we should not and could not afford to go back into national lockdown again, for many reasons. By no means am I saying that we go back to life before 2020; such a laissez-faire and dismissive approach would create chaos, misery and even more heartbreak, but there must be greater debate on the way forward. Sadly, in this effort I’m routinely dismissed as callous and cold for simply raising potential objections to lockdown, and that looks set to continue. A recent YouGov poll shows 72% of English people backed Johnson’s latest efforts to plunge the country into another comatose state, and much of Scotland is now following suit. So, for now at least, I’m firmly in the minority.
Why is lockdown so popular? If the first lockdown didn’t work, as we’re all so willing to claim, then why are we all too keen to go back into it? Although we’ve had the great news of two potential vaccines recently, are we forever to stop and start until they arrive for everyone or until Covid just disappears?
What about the other hidden costs of this nuclear option? Costs not immediately evident but still being paid, especially by the most vulnerable. These are costs all too evident for those in insecure employment or running independent businesses; for those suffering from mental health disorders or domestic abuse; for those not using the NHS out of fear of being a burden on the system. It’s far too easy for many of us to sit back in our ivory towers with stocked fridges, Netflix subscriptions and lovely warm beds keeping us cosy, pretending as though lockdowns will solve all of our problems. At all costs, it seems, we must rid ourselves of the virus first, and then assess the catastrophic damage second. The notion of prevention rather than cure, which should have particular poignance today, is all too absent.
Although I’m pleased furlough is extended until March, what will our national debt look like after the virus, a debt now surpassing £2tn? And what use is this extended furlough if thousands of independent businesses and small shops go bankrupt? Who then is to pay for this bill? A younger generation nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the national average? And if all this were not enough, ex-Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has stated that for every Covid-related death there has been one indirect death related to other illnesses going untreated. Why is this not taken into consideration when we use the blunt, harsh sledgehammer that is lockdown?
The spectre of the American case-study is often cited as a justification for lockdown, but should our policy making be dictated by a solitary example where we point fingers, shrug and say: “at least we’re not as bad as those guys”? The lack of plurality in decision-making has left the public psyche content with perpetual restrictions that leave no end in sight. We seem constantly geared towards the abject and unrealistic goal of preventing every single Covid admission or death, at all costs. As tragic as every death is, this approach clearly isn’t working. Our gleeful acceptance of these measures only further justifies them, no matter how dubious the evidence behind them is. The latest round of restrictions in England were justified under predicted figures suggesting 4,000 deaths per day if no action was taken, with the Telegraph pointing out that this should have us currently sitting at 1,000 deaths a day - instead it is scarcely a quarter of this. This pattern of over-blown modelling, worst-case scenarios and cherry-picked figures has toxified any essence of balance.
Of course, Covid-19 should still be given the due respect it deserves, but such a blanket, blunt approach has not and will not work. Our current stop-start strategy simply won’t hold up in the long-term if a viable vaccine does not arrive soon. One thing’s for sure though: continue to lockdown and we lock in all these hidden costs until the bill becomes too high to pay.