Never in the field of human conflict…has the emotional tail wagged the economic and political dog so vigorously. Regardless of how we got where we are, I really wonder why we are here, how we are going to get out of it and what it means for the future.
I must preface this with an acknowledgement that Covid-19 is a highly contagious virus and, in some cases, very nasty to fatal. Less fatal than SARS, with fatalities skewed towards those at the vulnerable end of the frailty spectrum and to a very few unfortunate ‘frontline’ workers who may have suffered from viral load or, more specifically, viral overload.
We have arrived at lockdown based less on evidence than on pressure from the press, an array of ‘experts’ and virtue-signalling from the likes of university vice-chancellors and prominent medical journal editors. Once one university closed, a few others followed, and the rest fell like dominoes in advance of advice from the government. Companies closed and many shops and restaurants locked their doors, all before the UK government decided, under pressure, it was time to ‘shut shop’.
There seems to be no plan for getting us out of this mess. What will the criteria be? Will it be a rapid downward fall in the number of cases or are we aiming for zero reported cases? It is possible that the general public are unaware that zero is unattainable? We have never achieved zero cases of SARS or MERS. Every now and then one crops up – but now we know how to recognise these cases quickly and take appropriate measures.
Don’t believe me? Remember the days when cholera and TB were eradicated, until they weren’t? We have had worse viral outbreaks in the past and far more deaths than are even currently projected. These are hard to compare, however, with the present situation as now we have vaccines and, generally, people are healthier and better nourished.
But I do wonder how we are going to deal with viral outbreaks in the future. Are we going to close countries, commerce and international transport down each time there is a reported case of a corona, or any other type of virus? We cannot. Some larger economies will ride this well and the UK is probably amongst those. Nevertheless, the UK will become a basket case – if it is not already there – if we endure this annually.
If all the above were not enough, we are in genuine danger of becoming a police state if the lockdown is prolonged. I am not referring to the relatively benign work of the police in keeping us socially distanced and restricted in our movements. These are bad enough but how long will people suffer enforced low wages, food shortages and the outright abuse that is being meted out by shop assistants and the security guards stationed at most retail outlets. On my visits to local ethnic shops – which seem still to be relatively well-stocked – I invariably meet a smiling face and receive a word of thanks for calling with absolutely no restrictions on my movement. Moreover, I come away with nearly everything I need and in the quantities I want.
A visit to a chain supermarket means being gruffly told to remain outside until ushered in. Then, told where to stand when I am inside and all without a word of thanks or a smile. I took a wrong turn and was on the receiving end of a tirade from a shop assistant about being a danger to others, with no chance to speak in my defence or the acceptance of an apology. The hallmarks of a dictatorship of the proletariat are beginning to emerge. I felt it was pointless pointing out to said operative that she had more chance of being run over and killed by a delivery truck in the shop car park than of catching Covid-19 from me, let alone subsequently dying of it. But emotions always win over evidence and argument and we are seeing this at a local, national and international level. I would get out more, but…
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing