Civil Liberties and Ending the Lockdown

In the weeks ahead, as the government seeks to loosen the lockdown while containing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely to introduce measures that in ordinary times would constitute serious violations of our civil liberties. For example, the government is likely to introduce extensive COVID-19 testing, enforce quarantine for those who test positive and compulsory trace, everyone; they have come into contact with.

As Liberals, a fundamental test we apply to any state action that restricts civil liberties is the one set out by John Stuart Mill: a person should be free to behave as they choose as long as they do not infringe the freedoms of others. The COVID-19 pandemic is a situation where civil liberties can, in principle, legitimately be restricted because if a person spreads COVID-19, they clearly infringe the freedoms of others.

However, in practice, great care must be taken that our civil liberties are restricted to the smallest possible extent.
It is not yet clear exactly what the government intends to introduce. But there are some key issues that we should consider now, so we can scrutinise whatever measures the government proposes.

One key issue concerns the universality of measures. Should people be able to opt-out, for example, by refusing to be tested, refusing to share details of contacts, or refusing to be quarantined? If large numbers of people refused to comply, then they would become ineffective. However, a liberal society should cautious about authoritarian enforcement measures. It should be reluctant to criminalise those who wish to opt-out immediately. A liberal society works best by consent.

We have seen how the great majority of people has followed social distancing and stay-at-home measures. The police have first sought to persuade and only punished as a last resort. Any new arrangements should follow the same approach.
Another major concern is the management of enormous volumes of data. If we follow the example of South Korea and harness smartphone technology, it might be via an App that keeps a record of where we have been, the people we have come into contact with and automatically notify people if somebody they have been in contact with tested positive. It might even check that we were abiding in quarantine.

Therefore a number of safeguards should be adhered to in order to protect our civil liberties. Firstly, we must scrutinise who owns the App, and has the right to analyse and act on its data. We should question whether such data should be owned directly by the government. It would not be appropriate to let a private tech company own the App. The best solution is probably to allow the NHS to own and manage the App and ringfence its powers.

Secondly, we must carefully limit the circumstances in which data from the App can be shared with other organisations. For example, we must consider whether data from the App could be shared with the police.

Thirdly, we must define exactly when data from the App must be deleted. It is vital that the data will be discarded when it ceases to be relevant to containing and tracing the spread of COVID-19.

Finally, we should set up a designated regulatory organisation that oversees the powers that are being granted and can penalise abusers. An existing example of such an organisation is the Information Commissioner’s Office that polices ordinary data privacy.

We are still many weeks away from the end of the lockdown, but the exit strategy is starting to be discussed now. We Liberals must take the lead in ensuring that our civil liberties are protected.

* Wera Hobhouse is the Member of Parliament for Bath. She is Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Climate Emergency, Energy and the Environment, and is running for leadership of the party

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52 Comments

  • Steve Trevethan 15th Apr '20 - 9:11am

    Thanks for an interesting and useful post!
    Alas, J S M’s message is fine in theory but how do we use it in practice?
    As Yogi Berra may have said, “In theory, theory and practice as the same, but in practice they are not”.
    The theory of limited access to information and enforcements is potentially useful but how do we make sure it is reasonably objectively applied?
    Who guards the guards?
    Might we show our concern for practical individual freedom and a personal freedom default in a noticeable way by speaking up for Julian Assange and questioning the corporate media and their hounding of individuals, even to the point of suicide?

    how Might we already have an example of the abuse of the State’s power to restrict individual freedom which we could be used to mobilise awareness and practical action for “freedom to”?

  • “The police have first sought to persuade and only punished as a last resort.”

    The police have been told to persuade first and only punish as a last resort. As anyone who has a social media account will know, this is not exactly what has been happening…

    Otherwise, great article and raises some very interesting and valid questions and campaign points. This is the sort of stuff we’r liberals need to be vigilant on, not just right now but after we have a vaccine and the crisis is over – we need to make sure that none of these emergency powers end up becoming the new normal

  • Steve Trevethan 15th Apr '20 - 9:13am

    Apologies!!!
    Please ignore the last garble paragraph
    Thanks

  • Daniel Walker 15th Apr '20 - 9:24am

    Goof article, Wera. I did read that, perhaps surprisingly¹, the Google and Apple were collaborating on a minimally-invasive form of contact tracking, using Bluetooth:

    https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/11/21216803/apple-google-coronavirus-tracking-app-covid-bluetooth-secure

    Which seems both proportionate and workable, at least for people with either an Apple or an Android phone. (Obviously there would need to be manual contact tracing for others)

    1. Possibly out of somewhat-enlightened self-interest; after all they hardly want the other one to have all that lovely data; better no-one does!, and they (and government) keep each other honest.

  • Zoe O'connell 15th Apr '20 - 9:28am

    Well said, Wera. I’m glad there’s a Parlimentarian talking about civil liberties at this time.

    However, I would be wary of the government owning the App and the data and would prefer it remains in private hands. This might sound counter-intuitive so bear with me.

    Apple and Google were both worried about government-mandated tracking of phones and other devices. This was, I’m sure, not solely out of some altruistic need but simply because it is bad business if your phones are all being tracked and people avoid using them as a result.

    Because of this, they have developed a system where nearby devices exchange a random but unique ID, and if you come into contact with someone’s device and they later develop symptoms you can be informed via a central database without anyone ever really knowing who they were.

    There is already talk within government circles about making this unique ID non-random, so individuals can be traced. Although they have denied this is a long term plan, the fact that governments are even thinking along those lines is worrying.

    On top of that, there is bound to be pressure from the police to extend the tracking system longer than is strictly required for public health reasons. We only have to look at recent actions by the police to see that they are already going far beyond both the letter and the spirit of the law.

    Right now, Apple and Google appear to be acting in people’s best long term interest more than the government. They also appear well placed to develop and deploy the technology far faster than a large, bureaucratic organisation like a government department and, crucially, fix any inevitable security issues as soon as they arise.

  • Question: if we were the Government what would be doing and saying. Just dealing with this is more than a full time occupation. Lets deal with the present. Sometimes I think the party is too pedantic.

  • Nonconformistradical 15th Apr '20 - 10:38am

    Some questions for Wera

    1. You say “The best solution is probably to allow the NHS to own and manage the App and ringfence its powers.”

    But the NHS is not independent of the state – and since when was the state a fit and proper custodian of personal data? What would be to stop them giving it all to the likes of Cambridge Analytica (to use for whatever purposes they like)?

    2. What about the digital divide i.e. what about that sector of our population who don’t have access to any kind of IT tech – including not using a smartphone? Or who choose not to have a smartphone on privacy grounds?

    3. Even with safeguards in place there is still the risk of transgressions. What penalties would you put in place? It’s no good imposing fines on the NHS or any other state organisation – because the public ends up paying through taxation rather than those responsibe for safeguarding our data.

  • Current testing practices are dangerous to the individual but protective for the tester so no chance of mass testing until home kits are available, preferably with instant results. Again, putting people into mass quarantine would be dangerous for the individual so probably having people tagged and kept in their homes would be the solution if positive, as long as they are guaranteed food deliveries, etc.

    Reasonable next step would be two hours exercise a day, limited vehicle usage, opening up some companies where personal space is not a big problem.

  • Great article, thanks Wera.

  • Daniel Walker 15th Apr '20 - 12:00pm

    @Nonconformistradical

    Zoe O’connell and I have both posted the solution currently being developed by Google and Apple (Zoe’s explanation is better than mine was, I feel!) but, in essence, unless you have been in contact with someone who tests positive all the data remains on your phone, and nowhere else, and even there doesn’t have a location track. This is clearly better than a centralised database of any sort from a security perspective. Even if you do get an alert, it is you who checks the database and reports yourself for testing.

    As you observe, there is a digital divide in that many people do not have a smartphone and that needs to be dealt with too, and would non-compliance, but a very large majority of the UK population do and this technique will allow staff to deal with the people who do not by more traditional methods.

    There’s no silver bullet, but a well-done technological measure could certainly help.

  • ……………………It is not yet clear exactly what the government intends to introduce. But there are some key issues that we should consider now, so we can scrutinise whatever measures the government proposes……………

    Kier Starmer has called on the government to set out lockdown exit strategy..If/when they do it can be scrutinised..

    ..Stephen Howse 15th Apr ’20 – 9:46am.. Labour will fall in line and back any measures the government proposes………

    Nice to see you have such an open mind!

  • I read that one European country can’t remember which but I thought it was Germany was going to issue people with a Keyring like device for people who did not have a smartphone.

    I do believe the rules on tracking trace have to be robust and there has to be compliance from everyone, not just “gentle persuasion” from the police.

    If someone has been tested for COVID-19 and tested positive and they refuse to isolate then there must be forced quarantined.
    We have to think of the elderly and vulnerable with underlying conditions here who have had to be shielded for months. If we get to the stage where those groups are able to start going out and remember there are millions of people in said group, but then there are some who refuse to comply with the testing tracking and isolating which could put the most vulnerable people in society at risk and back and cause another outbreak and put the vulnerable back into full isolation and shielding, that would be disgraceful.
    We are all equal and we are all responsible for doing everything possible in order for everyone to be able to enjoy the great outdoors with minimum risk to society and vulnerable groups

  • I agree that if we aren’t able to test and contact trace many people will die unnecessarily.
    The fact is that we are not able to test and contact trace.
    So many people die who do not need to.
    All of this should have been organised in advance because we should have has a disaster recovery plan.
    This morning I was watching the BBC News interviewing people who work in care homes begging for the garments to make them safer and the tests to see if sick residents are virus victims or not.
    How long will it take for the present government to have a plan for the present, let alone the future?
    As far as knowing where I am is concerned my telephone provider always knows where my telephone is when it is switched on. I do not know what they know when it is switched off.
    When will we be able to test everyone who wants it?
    When will we stop trying to blame everyone else?
    Before we enter into a phantasy world let us stop killing people.
    We need a government that can actually govern.

  • Barry Lofty 15th Apr '20 - 1:44pm

    As a man of a certain age and of the grumpy variety I do not envy the future for the younger generation and as a somewhat neadophal, if that’s how you spell it, ,with regards to the most modern technology I do not look forward to the immediate future with much relish either. My mantra is ” if it has the word smart in front of it, it invariably is,nt?? My wife and I will be grateful to get through the next few weeks and meet up with our family again hopefully!!

  • Steve Trevethan 15th Apr '20 - 2:06pm

    “Virtually all key aspects of any civilized society go contrary to the absolutism of individual rights.”
    “The health of the individual depends upon the health of the community.”
    Might we be facing a spectrum choice and not a binary choice?
    Might we address this matter as a spectrum or continuum point decision?
    https://www.globalresearch.ca/covid-19-coronavirus-and-civilization/5709343

  • “The police have first sought to persuade and only punished as a last resort. ”

    I’m glad a LIb Dem MP is talking about civil liberties.

    But if Wera thinks that she is dangerously illinformed and needs to ask much much more probing questions.

    I can’t take any of Wera’s other comments seriously after that. She needs to go away, get properly informed and then maybe she can be taken seriously.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Apr '20 - 4:20pm

    In this article is a very necessary argument, based on a sound principle. But the principle is not explained at all avoiding, therefore, wider consideration of liberty by Liberals.

    Mill did not emphasise, as Wera said here, people should be free to behave as they choose, so long as they do not, her quote here, “infringe the freedom of others.”

    He emphasised that people should be at liberty to do as they choose, but that we , as individuals, communities, and state, can intervene, and restrict or curtail that liberty, for, his words, “self protection, and if someone else inflicts, or causes, his words, “harm to others.”

    This is of importance, and should be to many in our party. It gives Wera amunition with her upskirting bill, and gave, for years, David Alton ammunition on abortion, as he sees a new growing life as included as one of those “others.”

    Debate is the life blood of Liberalism, but please, see, I defend myself, the “self protection,” alluded to, if it is in condemning and imprisoning someone who causes me harm, say with violence. We defend ourselves, and give us, “self protection,” from those who “do harm to others,” by punishing those who spread a lethal, to many, virus.

    And as Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein put it, in a song “What’s the use of wondering,” in their musical work, Carousel, “all the rest is talk!”

  • There are Several safeguards I would have for an app

    1. The source code is published which I think Hancock has said they will. An answer to Who guards the guards – so techies can analyse whether it does what it says on the tin.
    2. It’s completely voluntary – I think in practice it’d be difficult to make it compulsory.

    3. It’s forbidden to use the data in anyway for law enforcement or to prosecute anyonr. Tempting for government but law enforcement can already get quite a lot of days from mobile phone companies.

    4. There was a powerful commissioner tasked with overseeing it.

    As a carrot if it flagged you as having been near someone infected you’d be entitled while you isolate to full sick pay for 14 days at your full salary paid by the state with comparable compensation for the self employed gig workers etc.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th Apr '20 - 11:13pm

    In some ways I think that the anonymity arguments and the exact nature of the technology are red herrings here. Mobile phones trace people – that should come as a shock to no one. In a pandemic there is a need for tracing beyond the norm, again no shock. This tech isn’t even all that new. I think my problem is this.

    ‘The COVID-19 pandemic is a situation where civil liberties can, in principle, legitimately be restricted because if a person spreads COVID-19, they clearly infringe the freedoms of others.’

    That’s of course true, but it’s also true of many diseases. Before I got a vaccine I was very vulnerable to shingles. Indeed that likely would have been worse for me than would covid 19. And people with chicken pox, which leads to shingles can be asymptomatic for days. I then could have spread shingles to more vulnerable people. Yet I don’t think anyone ever called for this level of surveillance for that endemic disease.

    We could as a next step say that a person with a history of dangerous driving is a danger to health, and fit phones with warning devices when a person with driving convictions is nearby.

    Indeed it could well be that enhanced surveillance leads to better outcomes – that’s not neutral.

    I just can’t reconcile it neatly in my head. I think that we likely will need this surveillance as an adaptation and I could live with it, but I look at the doors this opens up and gulp. I think my problem is more that this clearly will never be undone. We do this now, it’s with us come what may, globally, and it won’t ever go into reverse. Come 2030 we’ll have a dozen of these apps on us, likely with real penalties attached.

  • My understanding is that the app world track you potentially nearer than generally. It would use Bluetooth (LE) to communicate with other mobile phones. If you were within 2 metres of that phone and the user of it subsequently contacts coronavirus then you’d get a warning on your app.

    This would be much closer than you were communicating with a particular mobile phone mast at the same time as an infected user which q1can cover a very wide area.

    The issue is that if we get out of lockdown and before a vaccine or drug treatment we need to keep the replication rate under 1 or it just explodes again. It was estimated at 2.5 before the lockdown. At the moment as far as I can see this needs a South Korea style trace, test, isolate strategy. But it has to be done with regard to our Western sensibilities hence big carrots and the app being voluntary. The only other options are very restricted economic activity or a death rate it seems of 300,000 which would be 1% which it seems to be of 30 million getting it. Worse than shingles.

    Unfortunately it seems that covid 19 has a really cunning plan. For a virus killing your host when you need hosts to stay alive is a really bad idea. And it only kills quite late in in the disease when it has spread. It seems some people’s immune systems go into overdrive late on in the disease and then damage the lungs.

  • For clarity obviously the person you are near needs to already have coronavirus, I should have written ” is subsequently diagnosed with coronavirus”.

  • The purpose of an anti-body test is to see if you have had the infection and if so, tested positive, are probably now immune. This frees up the hole situation as such people are likely to no longer be able to be infected or be infectious. Obviously with a new virus our knowledge about the degree of immunity is incomplete. However in my view I think to free people up and get the economy going again we need to assume we do have immunity in this way. If we are proved wrong in this way we have to think again. But without going forward in this way there is no possible exit strategy.

  • Whole!

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Apr '20 - 10:58am

    I was very glad to read this piece and see that Wera is vigilant about our civil liberties, which indeed are threatened. I think that there is a danger of massive over-reaction to this virus in this country. It seemed to me, for example, that the new Nightingale hospital built at speed in London would never be needed as such an enormous new resource.

    No doubt the lockdown has successfully prevented existing hospitals being overrun by patients needing intensive care. But I think the continuation beyond another three weeks should be unnecessary. A general mindset has grown up, that the virus can be anywhere, and the whole population must be protected from it at any cost. The cost, not least in mental health and in dealing with existing health problems, is already high,, and the economic cost grows at a terrifying rate. Though an older person myself, I think we should consider the virus – as Little Jackie Paper suggests – in less cataclysmic terms. Give better protection to the most vulnerable, by all means, and it is a scandal that care homes have not been given equipment and guidance as they should have been. But let the rest of us take our chance of catching this virus. It was reported that eighty per cent of us would have it only lightly. I think I have read that the death rate is one in a hundred. In other words, I think we should learn to live with it, though perhaps keeping face masks and gloves on if we feel vulnerable. I should not think any app is needed.

  • @Katharine

    “But let the rest of us take our chance of catching this virus. It was reported that eighty per cent of us would have it only lightly. I think I have read that the death rate is one in a hundred. In other words, I think we should learn to live with it, though perhaps keeping face masks and gloves on if we feel vulnerable. I should not think any app is needed.”

    To be honest with you Katharine I find that a very selfish attitude. That is not just taking a risk with your own life, that is taking a risk with others which you have no right to take.
    Every single life is equal and we all have a right to enjoy the great outdoors. We cannot keep Pensioners and vulnerable people with underlying conditions locked-down indefinitely. If that means we all have to accept some kerbs on our liberties in order for that to happen then that is the way it must be until a vaccine or suitable cure is found.

    If that means that we all have to accept some forms of social distancing, tracing a contact tracing and quarantine for those that are sick in order for elderly and vulnerable people to be able to also enjoy getting back outdoors and seeing loved ones with the minimum amount of risk, then that is how it must be.

    Have you watched the channel 4 documentaries on the NHS and what is going on in the hospitals, the circumstances in which Dr’s and Nurses are working 12-hour shifts to the point of exhaustion and they are fainting because of the heat of wearing PPE equipment for long hours? It is not sustainable for NHS front line staff to be working under those emergency conditions day in day out for months on end, they will drop like flies and many would end up leaving the NHS because they would deem the risk to themselves and their families as to higher risk.
    Without the NHS the economy collapses anyway. If death rates remain too high and people feel that the NHS is not able to treat them, people will not go out and spend anyway to get the economy moving.

    We all have to accept some kerbs on civil liberties so we can all experience some freedom of the outdoors in as safe a way as possible until a vaccine is found.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Apr '20 - 1:39pm

    Herbert Morrison famously remarked, socialism, is what Labour governments do! That vague but sufficient definition of an ideology suited the pragmatic Morrison.

    Would that similar might do for Liberals, say, Liberalism is what Liberals support!

    Much of what those such as Katharine say on this crisis, has everything to do with eccentric individualism, nothing much, to do with social Liberalism, or social democracy.

    I agree with Matt, on this, though I share concerns with some, on data and privacy, I do not, on so called civil liberties, these as described by those eccentric individualists, nothing but libertarian nonsense, nobody has a right, according to any definition of social Liberalism or social democracy, to spread a virus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The clap for carers is to support those at risk, them! It is not to support those who cannot be bothered to stay at home and watch it on tv!

    As someone only two years younger than our Prime Minister, with a wife who has had pneumonia more than once, and and asthma, when younger, self isolating, social distancing, in a small flat with no garden, and in financial difficulty before this crisis, in the past, as a result of work changes and problems from a car accident, my wife and I, despair at the heroism of some, magnified all the more, in comparison with the conservatism of others, ostensibly on the left, for whom, the phrase, a change is as good as a rest, was seemingly created!!!

  • @matt “We cannot keep Pensioners and vulnerable people with underlying conditions locked-down indefinitely. If that means we all have to accept some kerbs [sic] on our liberties in order for that to happen then that is the way it must be until a vaccine or suitable cure is found.”

    Matt you accuse Katharine of selfishness; may I suggest that you take the plank from your own eye.

    Putting it bluntly – many people are facing the ruin of their livelihoods and all the attendant misery that goes with it in order to protect the lives of the vulnerable. There’s not really any evidence that this approach is even the correct one. Liberty is about balance; and if the right to life of the vulnerable can be preserved in a way that also permits the right to work for the many, then that way should be taken.

  • @TCO

    Where have I said that people should not return to work??????

    In fact, if you have read any of my posts over the days I have said that the Government must put in place the infrastructure to Test Test Test, Trace, Contact Trace and Isolate.
    I have also said that the Government must ensure that there is the capability to mass-produce PPE and to ensure we have enough to get it to where it is needed on a weekly basis.
    I have then argued that once the infrastructure is in place.
    Schools should reopen.
    All shops should reopen under a certain size
    Restaurants and Pubs should open but on a reduced number capacity and no congregating at the bar and ensure that social distancing is maintained, I have said that opening times must be restricted to 11 pm to ensure there is no irresponsible late-night drinking that leads to pressures on front-line emergency services.

    I have argued that large gathering events would have to remain closed for the time being.

    I am all for getting the economy moving again BUT NOT at the expense to health and certainly not at the expense of elderly and vulnerable groups who would be locked-in indefinitely unless these measures are done in a sensible manner which limits the risk as much as possible.

    Unless these measures are done right, infection rates will soar again, the NHS staff will not be able to cope with sustained transmission rates and working in horrific conditions causing stress and exhaustion and putting themselves and their families at risk. The NHS would face a real risk of collapsing through staff exhaustion not a lack of capacity. People would be fearful to go outdoors if infection rates continued and death rates were still high, They would not be spending in the economy which is much needed to get things moving again.

    So please try reading my posts before you accuse me of not caring about peoples livelihoods

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Apr '20 - 5:24pm

    Tco

    We have often held views in agreement, on these issues, not the case, you are in my view wrong to refer to Matt in this comment.

    You get the science out there which shows this is a mild hard to catch virus, and if you get this, you can then convince us.

    I disagree with Matt, we should not, and nor should we in effect want to, get to business as usual, unless there is far greater effort from those not prepared even in this situation, to social distance, let alone, self isolate.

    Economic imagination is rare on the left or right, you say you are neither, well, fine, me too, in which case we can reimagine our economy, like a city or country does post bombing.

    Rather better than during a war on a pandemic.

  • To Katharine

    I have to apologise for saying to you today “selfish attitude” I have been wrestling with my conscience all afternoon and I really should not have said it.

    I know you are a kind caring and compassionate lady who does a lot of work in the community and charity and I know you care about people.

    I just get overly frustrated sometimes at people, these are very dark scary times for a lot of people and we are scared. We are scared for ourselves, our families, our loved ones and our communities and it is confusing and upsetting when we see some people who do not appear to take this virus as serious as others, maybe they are made of stronger stuff and go through life without allowing little to phase them.

    It is upsetting for those of us who are locked-down indefinitely until the country can get on top of this virus and reduce the risk of infection and fatalities to the most vulnerable and yet some people seem to be of the opinion that their civil liberties are more important than our own and they have a right to chose to take a risk of their own health, even if that means us more frail types will have to remain locked up indoors for longer.
    I just cannot get my head around that type of thinking, because to my core as being, I believe that we are all equal and we all have a responsibility within ourselves to ensure that every human being has a right to life, a right to breathe and a right to be safe, or as safe as we can make it during these uncertain times.

    Anyway, I know we are not going to entirely agree on this matter and I am sorry for the long post and explanation, I just wanted to try and explain myself but most importantly I wanted to say I was sorry as I believe my earlier comments went to far and I should have found a better way of expressing myself.

    Stay safe and all the best Katharine

  • Well done, Matt, and your second paragraph is correct.

  • @Katharine Pindar
    No doubt the lockdown has successfully prevented existing hospitals being overrun by patients needing intensive care. But I think the continuation beyond another three weeks should be unnecessary.
    From the little that has been released to the news, the majority of those dying today were exposed to SARS-CoV-2 before the lockdown. It was noteworthy that some cases reported on had been in intensive care for three weeks, so they would have been exposed 4~6 weeks ago.

    A general mindset has grown up, that the virus can be anywhere,
    From the speed of its global distribution and its distribution across the UK, it is probably safe to assume the virus is potentially everywhere, just like the flu virus…
    But unlike the flu virus SARS-CoV-2 has shown its spread is not slowed by increasing levels of sunlight etc. which would seem to imply that whilst the virus can be denatured by UVC light at an intensity of 1.5W per sq. metre for thirty minutes, it is surviving exposure to normal everyday sunlight.

    and the whole population must be protected from it at any cost.
    Do you want a functioning society? A laissez-faire approach to prevention could easily in our densely populated and highly mobile country have delivered the sorts of numbers America is seeing.

    Give better protection to the most vulnerable, by all means, and it is a scandal that care homes have not been given equipment and guidance as they should have been.
    Well I suspect one of the big differences between the UK and China is that we allow staff to go home rather than remain quarantined in the care home/hospital. From local cases in care homes the vector has been a member of staff. Which would suggest that we are going to have to get better and more rigorous in our screening of staff – just like we have with the screening of blood donors…

    But let the rest of us take our chance of catching this virus. It was reported that eighty per cent of us would have it only lightly.
    That is pure speculation, not science fact. Until we have mass testing and have been able to test a significant proportion of the population we will not be able to draw any such conclusions.
    Personally, given the 80% figure chimes so neatly with the 80:20 rule-of-thumb business metric, I naturally treat it with scepticism and expect it has been simply plucked out-of-the-air…

  • Peter Martin 17th Apr '20 - 4:46am

    @ Katharine,

    ” I think that there is a danger of massive over-reaction to this virus in this country…..”

    Not at all. Even if some of the Nightingale facilities are never used they are a good insurance policy.

    So far we’ve had around 13,000 deaths. 100,000 confirmed cases but probably about 500,000 infections. On an ultra optimistic best case scenario, which I would say many are assuming, we can say we’ve reached the peak, the graph will look symmetrical, so we’ll have another 13,000 deaths on the way down and another 500,000 infections. This way we end up with around 26,000 deaths and about a million infections in total.

    The problem with this scenario, is that one million is only about 1.5% of the population and nowhere near high enough to slow down spread of the infection in the rest of the population. We’d need at least a factor of 30 higher. So if we multiply everything by 30 we end up with 30 million infections and 780,000 deaths.

    In other words, the Covid 19 epidemic (in the UK) and pandemic (worldwide) has a lot further to go. We are not looking at a graph which is nice and symmetrical around the current possible peak. It’s all going to drag on for months and months until a mass produced vaccine becomes available.

  • Katharine Pindar
    I agree. It’s noticeable that other countries are beginning to end their lockdowns, without a vaccine. The problem is that a lot of people are, understandably, very scared. The other problem is that some other people think this is the path to a new society and have politicised it. When we come out of this there is going to be a lot of destroyed incomes, businesses and jobs, plus physical and mental health problems. The latter will possibly replace one NHS crisis with another as all those people currently avoiding hospitals and GPs flood back into the system.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Apr '20 - 4:27pm

    Good news today: I have had a quite reliable report that now 91% of people getting the virus, at least in this country, are recovering.

    Matt, thank you for your gracious second comment. I was not in a good place yesterday to re-enter this thread, but all right today. Thanks to TCO for his comment in reply to you yesterday, and to Glenn today; also to David for kind remark.

    I can absolutely understand our difference of viewpoint, Matt. If I were in the fraught, strained position in which you unfortunately are, I am sure I would be considering safety much more than civil liberties. I am very fortunate:.free to go about and not to be afraid of this particular thing. But we have both to try and think of many other people in different situations. And I feel very much for all sorts of people being in abnormal circumstances, and the stresses that that causes them. It is the health and well-being .effects – ironic though it is to think of health effects in these circumstances – which particularly bother me: so, in TCO’s scenario, the ruin of livelihoods now happening which will cause desperate misery, quite likely family break-ups, even suicides

    We both know too well how tension and stress can lead to depression. An informed writer in the Guardian on Tuesday, Andrew Soloman, wrote of the toxic effects of quarantine, causing depression and anxiety, of how whether it is the newly isolated or those in families cooped up together with enforced emotional repression, depression and self-harm can result. He is writing from knowledge of the sars outbreak in Canada, and of Inuit wintering in Greenland.

    For myself I think of the millions of young people deprived for such a long period of their real-life social contacts and their necessary sports, this interruption and frustration of their natural development; and of the cancer sufferers fearing their deferred treatment will be too late; and I just think, we have got to get back to near normal soon, for everyone’s sake.

    No, I don’t want you and your family to be locked up for very many more weeks, Matt, nor the 18 year old friend with still eight weeks to go . You are right, we need the tests, tests, tests we should have had weeks ago, and contact- tracing and temporary isolating, but we do need an end to lockdown in weeks, not months, and an end to the fear, and the over-reaction of authorities which does indeed threaten our civil liberties.

  • Peter Martin 18th Apr '20 - 8:13am

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    “………….but we do need an end to lockdown in weeks……”

    If you’re going to do that you may as well end it now and concede there was no reason to have it in the first place. Just let the virus rip through the population, bury the millions of dead and get on with life as usual.

    As you say, at least 91% of us will recover. And 9% of the population is only 5.9 million people who wont!

  • Katharine Pindar
    interestingly, there is a study from Stanford that suggest the virus infection rates may be 50 to 85 percent higher than thought. We don’t really know how many people are dying with virus or of it. Are, for instance, some vital medical interventions being delayed because of a positive test for the virus? Also if we can’t ensure safety in the controlled and relatively easy to lockdown environment of a care home, why assume it is working with an entire country? Then there is the puzzling matter of the death rates looking barely any different in nations that locked down or in those adopting other strategies. Sweden , Iceland and Japan are taking a more cautious path(lockdown is in fact the wild experiment). But Brazil doing absolutely nothing at all has a population of about 211,000000 and less deaths from covid19 than Belgium, Italy or the UK.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Apr '20 - 5:46pm

    Yes. much is still unknown about Covid 19, Glenn, as you infer. Considering the ending of lockdown, I am quite interested in a suggested gradual release backed by economist Gerard Lyons and Iain Duncan Smith that it should proceed in three stages, each three weeks apart, to be known as red, amber If and green stages. If all goes well full normality could be restored in June. (I hope this goes ahead and we can still have our Brighton Conference, as well as the new football season! But I want hairdressers restored in May!)

    Peter Martin. You don’t normally write nonsense, Peter; I am wondering if the situation is really getting to you, as it may be to many other people. The 5.9 million people won’t all be getting the virus, and indeed with suitable precautions hopefully not many will. And those who do die, might have died anyway, affected by the virus or not.

  • @Katherine – “Peter Martin. You don’t normally write nonsense, Peter; I am wondering if the situation is really getting to you, as it may be to many other people. The 5.9 million people won’t all be getting the virus, and indeed with suitable precautions hopefully not many will.”

    As said before SARS-CoV-2 can be assumed to be nationwide; thus ending the lockdown before we have reasonable certainty that there are no more carriers – human, avian or other and before we can be sure that SARS-CoV-2 virions resting on touch surfaces have denatured, will only result in the virus re-appearing and once again rapidly spreading throughout a largely unprotected population. Ob ivously, I’m omitting the international travel dimension here, just to keep things simple. Thus Peter’s observation that a 91% survival rate equates to 5.9 million deaths is a reasonable deduction.

    Thinking tangentially, what this could mean is that the UK housing crisis could be solved by Christmas 2020…

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Apr '20 - 8:47pm

    Roland, apologies that I had not got round to responding to your last comment. I think, as does Glenn apparently, that there are too many unknown and puzzling features about this virus for much speculation to be useful. I have read, for example, that medical experts are beginning to ponder again about the actual effect of the virus on the body. And I have heard that doctors attending deathbeds in people’s homes or care homes can’t always say for sure if the virus was part of the mortality effect. Then, on the treatment news, there was the strange case of the woman believed to be dying who recovered after being placed on her front for 12 hours!

    I will give up speculating myself, for one. I suppose the big failure of the government has been in not starting testing earlier, as in Germany, so that people carrying the virus can be isolated and their contacts traced and tested. Is it surprising that our present government has failed to consider examples of other EU countries, or ask to share in their procurement? (Devastating indictment of the failings over this of Boris Johnson in particular in today’s Sunday Times.) I would make only one further point. I think it is highly unlikely that our government would be considering gradual lifting of the lockdown if the scientists think there is still a danger of appalling numbers of deaths being caused by the virus before a vacine is found.

  • @Katharine

    “(Devastating indictment of the failings over this of Boris Johnson in particular in today’s Sunday Times.)”

    I have not read the article as it’s behind a paywall but I think I have the gist from snippets from other articles.

    I do find it all very concerning.

    As each day passes I grow more and more concerned with the competency of this Government and I am concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability of the Government.
    Considering the gravity of the situation I don’t think I am comfortable with waiting till after the crisis is over and for an enquiry to point out where the Government went wrong and mistakes were made.
    I think now is the time for a Government of National Unity where all parties are privy to the scientific data and plans with as much scrutiny and transparency as possible.

    We cannot wait till after the crisis to learn from the mistakes, we need to be learning from them during the crisis to try and prevent any more.

    This National Emergency is far too big with far-reaching consequences to be in the hands of one party who is coming under so much political pressure from biased self-interested organisations / business / Parties/ Donors

  • “It is highly unlikely that our government would be considering gradual lifting of the lockdown if the scientists think there is still a danger of appalling numbers of deaths being caused by the virus before a vaccine is found”.

    16,060 confirmed deaths so far is an appalling number, Katharine..probably an underestimate given it’s the weekend and the daily figures are flat lining.

    To visualise it, imagine a nearly full John Smith stadium at Huddersfield or the Albert Hall filled more than three times over.

  • @David Raw

    “16,060 confirmed deaths so far is an appalling number”

    So true David, I recall the scientific officers saying that they would have done well if we were to limit deaths to 20,000.
    By the time we take the 16,060 hospital deaths and then add the care home deaths and those that have died in the community we have already surpassed the 20k and we are not even past the plateau yet and on the way down in this awful nightmare.

    Every loss of life is tragic and given that there is every chance that more lives could have been saved had we of acted sooner and locked-down earlier, ensured that care home providers were well advised on emergency contagion practices (Something I am told by my sisters who both works in different care homes was not the case)

    The Government has been running simulation practices for this type of thing for years.
    How have they got this so wrong and been so ill-prepared, I thought the whole point of the simulation was to discover the weakness and then prepare for worst-case scenarios?

    My biggest worry with this Government as they have shown from the very start of all this is that they are “bounced” into action at every stage. I now fear that Boris will be bounced into action to prematurely end the lockdown by his party Donors and businesses, it is clear from articles in the rightwing media that Boris is losing support from his faithful supporters who are all dictating what their version of ending the lock-down and timescale should look like.

    Boris said at the beginning that they were being led by the science, personally I think that was a load of baloney and he was using that as “shield” not to lockdown early as he wanted to protect the economy first, only when the numbers looked like they were going to be awful and they came under pressure from the media and the public did Boris get bounced. Now that the media have turned and made it all about the economy again just watch Boris get bounced again.

    We need a GNU and all Government departments should have a minister from each party in them i.e joint Chancellor from Tory and Libdem Joint Health Secretary Tory and Labour and so on
    I do not trust anyone party to get us out of this mess and it should be a joint effort.

    There is such a lack of accountability and transparency going on right now and that can not be allowed to continue with so many lives and livelihoods at stake

  • As for ‘opt out’..How would you deal with another Mary Mallon (‘Typhoid Mary’)?…How would you deal with those ‘Brits’ who, whilst in Spain, glorified their refusal to comply?

    One poster staed that ‘there should never be an enforced lockdown’…Where/when does ‘liberal’ translate to ‘irresponsible’?

  • Peter Martin 20th Apr '20 - 9:55am

    @ Katharine,

    ” I think it is highly unlikely that our government would be considering gradual lifting of the lockdown if the scientists think there is still a danger of appalling numbers of deaths being caused by the virus before a vaccine is found.”

    It’s more than likely!

    The aim has been to limit the number of cases so the NHS isn’t overwhelmed. So far it has been established that the NHS can cope with a level that corresponds to about 1000 deaths per day. That’s probably too high. But, once we get down to about 500 deaths per day there will be a gradual lifting of restrictions which will mean that 500 becomes the new norm.

    So do the arithmetic. One year until we get the vaccine. 500 deaths per day. 365 x 500 is 182,500 deaths on top of what we’ve had so far.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Apr '20 - 11:09am

    This fright about the figures of possible deaths to come is very understandable. We just haven’t been used to know about and therefore consider how many deaths there are anyway every day in England, David and Peter. Yet even Italy, so badly struck by the virus, is coming out of lockdown. Do governments think the harm of doing so, in terms of increased mortality, is no greater than the harms, including health harms, of not doing so? It would appear so. I think they would not think that, they and their scientific advisers, if they thought there would be hundreds of thousands more casualties. But I am opting out of this particular discussion, having no knowledge.

    Matt, I suppose we Liberal Democrats did not expect much of this government, but I was shocked to read the Sunday Times report. I would say it conveyed a quiet contempt of this premier who was unjustifiably absent too often in the last two months, missing five COBRA meetings, taking holidays with his girl-friend and concentrating on the announcements about their engagement and her pregnancy, as if this were any time to be planning such usually happy affairs. A part-time, detached PM leaving the work to others – it almost seems like heavenly justice that he was struck down by the virus himself. Unfortunately we are stuck with him and his choice of ministers. But I think both Keir Starmer and our own Ed Davey are stringent in their criticisms, and his attempt at being a mini-president should be subdued now, if not by his experience of illness, then probably by the public’s realising again his unsuitability to be premier and demanding much better service.

  • Phil Beesley 20th Apr '20 - 12:04pm

    Katharine Pindar: “This fright about the figures of possible deaths to come is very understandable. We just haven’t been used to know about and therefore consider how many deaths there are anyway every day in England, David and Peter. Yet even Italy, so badly struck by the virus, is coming out of lockdown. Do governments think the harm of doing so, in terms of increased mortality, is no greater than the harms, including health harms, of not doing so?”

    Counting premature deaths from seasonal flu has always been a controversial topic. For most recent years, the consensus is it was about 10,000 p.a. plus one dreadful year prior to widespread vaccination when it was about 30,000. I hate the words I use here, but those premature deaths were about shortening lives by months; Covid-19 shortens lifespans by years. It is potentially much more lethal.

    Every day, our bodies are exposed to microbes and viruses. Some are familiar or similar to one our bodies know how to counteract. Even with a new virus like Covid-19, our bodies recognise that something is wrong and most of the time our systems correct themselves. We pass by the infection; we are not infected, we do not become immune, we just push it to one side. We become infected when we are exposed to a lot of the virus or when we are continually exposed. And there is no measure of how vulnerable we are to a particular dose.

    So some countries are experimenting about relaxing lockdown restrictions. They are presumably doing this because they expect that late spring is when flu-like viruses go into decline. That is cobblers, of course. New Zealand has entered autumn. Those countries are taking a gamble that the second infection wave is smaller than the first one.

    I’d like to think that UK gov is ramping up manufacturing of health care equipment, not only to supply UK demand, but with a surplus for our neighbours. But I’d only be disappointed.

  • Katharine,

    I agree with Peter Martin that the aim of the lockdown is not to reduce the number of deaths, because nothing can be done to do this, but to ensure the number of cases is low enough for the NHS to be able to cope.

    According to the ONS for the week ending 3rd April there were 16,387 deaths registered in England and Wales, which is 6,082 more than the five-year average. 3475 (21.2%) mentioned Covid-19 as a cause of death. (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths)
    16387 in a week is 2341 per day.

    There were 616,010 deaths in the UK in 2018, which is about 1688 deaths a day (https://www.statista.com/statistics/281488/number-of-deaths-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/).

  • @Michael BG

    “I agree with Peter Martin that the aim of the lockdown is not to reduce the number of deaths, because nothing can be done to do this, but to ensure the number of cases is low enough for the NHS to be able to cope.”

    I think it is also vital to point out as well Michael, that it is not just about NHS Capacity i.e number of beds and ventilators but also the amount of workload and safety

    Sure the NHS is used to having a couple of months of the year during flu season when ICU is manic, however, that is not sustainable on a monthly basis throughout the year with no end in sight. Staff would become exhausted both physically and mentally and of course, there is the safety issue over PPE as well.
    Working in full PPE for hours on end is also physically draining on staff.

    It is vital that people understand that it is not just about the capacity of the NHS but the ability of frontline workers to be working in such conditions day in day out 12 months of the year and I worry that this is something that is being overlooked by many who just assume it is a “capacity” issue

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Apr '20 - 6:49pm

    Michael BG. Thank you for supplying the figures, Michael. The number of extra deaths in an early April day was formidable, which I suppose before the level reduced much explains the continuation of lockdown beyond the initial three weeks. However, I myself understood all along that the main aim of government was to ensure the NHS capacity was sufficient to cope with the increase in numbers.

    As Matt points out above, NHS capacity has to be considered from a number of angles, and whatever the worries about PPE, the staff cannot go on working flat out indefinitely. This is a problem relevant to the whole of society and the economy, I suggest – the system under lockdown is creaking and the next aim must surely be to make sure that it does not break.

  • Peter Martin 21st Apr '20 - 2:02pm

    Why is there a winter flu season? There’s no evidence that flu viruses prefer colder weather.

    Could one possible reason be that we are more likely to work and live in poorly ventilated rooms in the winter months? This means every breathe of air we take is going to contain more air, and potentially more flu containing moisture doplets, which has been exhaled by someone else.

    The effect is likely to be the same for many illnesses including covid-19. I always preferred the older style railway carriages which had open-able window. Modern rolling stock has dispensed with all that in favour of recirculated air from an air conditioner. How much of that has previously been breathed in and out by other passengers?

    It’s the same problem in buses and aircraft too.

    @ Matt,

    Good point about NHS capacity.

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