Lockdown must never happen again

Bella Wallersteiner

March 23, 2021

A year has passed since the British public accepted lockdown as the best way to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, yet we are still living under the strictures of the Coronavirus Act.

In the name of virus protection, we have experienced a level of authoritarianism not seen in this country since the time of Oliver Cromwell – restrictions on freedom of movement, forced closure of businesses, and prohibitions on weddings and funerals have challenged many of our most cherished beliefs about the limits of government power, while the ban on large gatherings means we cannot even legally protest them.

Today, as we mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, we would do well to reflect on just how compliant we have become to what were intended to be ‘emergency’ powers.

Cheery platitudes have ranged from “we’re all in this together” and “we’ll send this virus packing” to the hopelessly inaccurate “it will all be over by Christmas”. But history tells us that governments tend to hold on to additional powers far longer than is necessary.

The Defence of the Realm Act of 1914, for example, granted the government wide-ranging powers in the name of public safety, including heavy censorship of the press and the introduction of rationing. Pub licensing laws remained in place for decades, only relaxed in November 2005.

The Second World War brought The Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 which ceded immense regulatory powers to the government, including provisions “for the apprehension, trial and punishment of persons offending against the Regulations and for the detentions of persons whose detention appears to be expedient to the Secretary of State in the interest of public safety or the defence of the realm”. The Act was finally repealed on 25th March 1959, but the last of the Defence Regulations (which included the maintenance of public order) was not lifted until 31st December 1964.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 represents one of, if not the greatest restrictions on liberty in modern British history. It has given hi-vis jacketed council-employed “Covid marshals” the right to use “reasonable force” to make people self-isolate (the equivalent of giving parking wardens the right to stop, search and arrest motorists for minor traffic offences). Citizens have been fined for not observing NHS Test and Trace edicts or for refusing to stay at home after testing positive. Penalties for reckless disregard of the self-isolation rules start at £4,000: the elasticity of the definition of the word “reckless” stretches from workers going to offices, to protesters joining a large demonstration such as the vigil held recently to reclaim the safety of London’s streets and parks. Anyone who “knowingly gives false information” by not denouncing a close contact, friend or relative can be fined £1,000 and the same penalty applies to parents who fail to ensure that their children self-isolate.

Perhaps most worrying is that freedom and liberty have been eroded without adequate justification. The government has insisted that it is being “guided by the science” but there has been a failure to consider a variety of scientific opinions, while worst case scenarios, such as Professor Neil Ferguson’s modelling, have been used to justify some of the most draconian interventions in living memory.

On year on from the first lockdown, we are in a completely different position. We have a world-beating vaccine programme and know far more about how the virus spreads and how it can be contained. Public awareness of the risks, and how to navigate them, is also much greater. June 21st should be VC Day, a public declaration of Victory over Covid, with the government repealing the Coronavirus Act and lifting all Covid restrictions.

Never again should we have to rely upon such authoritarian measures, which have brought catastrophic consequences for the economy, mental health, well-being and children’s education.

Author

Written by Bella Wallersteiner

Bella Wallersteiner works in political due diligence.

3 comments

  1. A very well articulated analysis of the response by the British government and public to the virus. I too, am very concerned about how easily the public rolled over, and give away fundamental rights. Moreover, i am shocked by the ignorance in display regarding the livelihoods of producers, with firms being forced into closure, sometimes permanently. The media bats away the valid argument of the cure being worse than ailment on a pseudo moral high-ground of Covid lives over the economy.

  2. What was the alternative? If three lockdowns have shown us anything they have shown us that they drive down the case rate. What would happen if we didn’t impose restrictions – well we can see what happens out of lockdown, cases rise, hospitals fill up and 111,000 excess deaths (note excess deaths ie people who would not have died without covid). Just consider what rampant covid would do if unchecked. Hospitals would be overwhelmed and people would then start dying from perfectly survivable issues like childbirth, heart attacks, sepsis because there would be no capacity to treat them. Hospital staff get sick and more needless deaths occur.

    The problem with lockdown sceptics is they cannot come up with a viable alternative. The data stands against them as unfortunately we tried to cope without severe restrictions and it failed not once but three times.

    Time to accept this was the least worst evil.

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