10 September 2020
Don’t Plan Christmas Yet
It could be cancelled.
By Lynda Goetz
At the beginning of July, I laughed aloud at a brilliant BOB cartoon picturing Boris, peering out to sea through his binoculars, perched atop a large, nearly dead, beached whale labelled ‘ECONOMY’ and proclaiming ‘We can’t be too careful about a second wave’. Now over two months later it seems that second wave fear has prompted yet more coronavirus legislation, flying in the face of almost all logic.
Politicians and scientists alike have been peering over the horizon for this mythical ‘second wave’ for some time now, without even any certainty that coronavirus behaves in this way, although it is a known feature of flu viruses. Scientists, including the deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam who was the latest to engender yet another wave of mass hysteria with his comments on Monday that we have all ‘relaxed too much’ in our attitudes to coronavirus rules, have no responsibility for the economy. Their preoccupation, rather more Canute-like, is ‘holding back’ the virus so that as few as possible die of it and we do not ‘overwhelm’ the NHS. Admirable, if you agree that it is fine if we can all shuffle off this mortal coil for any of the other usual reasons, such as cancer, stroke, heart attack, pneumonia, even suicide – indeed anything, seemingly, just so long as it is not coronavirus.
Politicians on the other hand should surely be balancing the physical health of the nation against its mental and economic health? Both the latter seem to be in a far more parlous state than the former. In the past, the state has called upon its citizens to do their duty and defend their nation. Now it seems the state is calling upon its citizens to save themselves and allow the nation to support them in so doing. Unfortunately, this, unsurprisingly, seems to be leading to the bankruptcy of the economy and the collapse of pretty much everything that makes human lives different from those of most other living creatures and life forms on the planet. Socialising? Well, only on certain conditions (which keep changing from week to week or even day to day). Creating? Well, as long as that creation is solitary and does not require the presence of an orchestra, a band, a group of actors or indeed any audience to witness the creation or performance. Team sport? Well, much the same. Travelling? To some places if you don’t mind being required at 24 hours’ notice to quarantine for 14 days on your return. Working? Well, only if you can ‘stay safe’ or are an ‘essential worker’. When exactly did state priorities change to put the individual before the state – even if that causes other individuals to suffer? An interesting question which is rather beyond a twelve-hundred word Shaw Sheet article, but is perhaps worth holding in mind, nevertheless.
What is happening to freedom and liberty? It would appear that the country is once again polarised into two almost equal halves. No longer REMAIN or LEAVE, but perhaps HYSTERIA and INDIFFERENCE or FRUSTRATION. Those who believe that unless we obey all the ridiculous injunctions of our headless chicken government, ‘we are all going to die’; versus those who believe that unless the government stops pumping out meaningless regulations on an almost daily basis there is going to be little worth living for. One of the issues which increasingly alarms the ‘Indifferents/Frustrateds’ is the exponential growth in governmental regulation without parliamentary debate or discussion. Of course we do not want to go back to a point where the speaker and a small group of parliamentarians can prevent the government from governing, as was the case last year, but nor is an authoritarian government acting ‘for our own good’ or ‘safety’ a desirable alternative.
The government is using powers mandated to it at the beginning of the pandemic. These powers are due to be reviewed at the end of this month. Let us hope that perhaps some of the more sensible back-benchers can pull the government up short and bring it back to its Tory principles of allowing individuals to be the ones to judge the levels of risk acceptable to them. If young people, who even if they catch the virus get only a mild illness, wish to socialise, then why should we prevent them from doing so? Equally, if their grandparents take the view, which many do, that they would rather enjoy what life is left to them, then why should it be a government decision as to whether they visit or even hug their children or grandchildren? These are surely not decisions for governments to make? Ministers like Matt Hancock should certainly not be making fear-inducing comments like ‘Don’t kill your Gran’. What on earth is he trying to do? Ensure that everyone from toddlers through teenagers to the toothless elderly is anxious and miserable, even those who have not lost their livelihoods as a result of the wholesale destruction of our economy? It is not even as if the statistics really support this approach.
Clearly most of us have no desire to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS, but equally, whatever we die of it is highly likely that in our last months, weeks, days or hours, we will need their help. Now that it has become even clearer than it was at the outset that the very elderly or those with ‘underlying conditions’ are the most likely to get a severe version of this virus, surely it is time to stop pretending that although it may be highly contagious it is also ‘lethal’ and that the only way out of this authoritarian nightmare is a vaccine, and instead to actively pursue a return to normality? Let’s face it, over 99% of us are unlikely to die of coronavirus. As Allison Pearson points out in her excellent commentary piece in Wednesday’s Telegraph, she has more chance of marrying Brad Pitt than most people do of dying from Covid 19.
But no, rather than any sort of return to normality we have the latest government pronouncement, revoking permissions for even the limited household contact which has been in force recently and allowing no more than 6 members of any family to get together, because hysterical fears of a second wave have provoked yet another U-turn and clampdown. Once again the rules as reported in the national press and elsewhere on Wednesday (to come into force next Monday) make little sense. No more than 6 members of any household can gather together – indoors or outdoors – and yet if you go to a restaurant you can apparently share the space with other groups of 6. Does this really make sense?
At the present rate of progress it is looking increasingly likely that Christmas as we know it will be cancelled. Already it is clear that few if any of the usual Christmas shows, theatre productions or even local village events will be happening, but most of us back in March had not for one second imagined that the usual family gatherings would also be ‘verboten’. There will undoubtedly be those who feel that could be a welcome relief, but come on, Boris, think of all those many more businesses which are going to fail if we can’t get together and over-eat and over-drink, argue about politics and exchange unwanted and unneeded presents – there isn’t even really the alternative of a long haul flight to some distant beach!