Covid-19 … The new Liberal reality

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While we may disagree on the timing of the UK government introducing the Covid-19 lockdown, I hope we can all agree that doing so was a necessary measure.

However, it’s a holding measure, not a solution in itself. It is becoming apparent that the scenario of staying in lockdown till Covid-19 is eradicated, or at least until it’s constrained in known isolated pockets in hospital ITUs, is highly unlikely. With no coordinated international response, even if we were to achieve this in the UK, there would be high probability of infection being reintroduced. If we have similar (or higher) infection rates than other countries, it’s even arguable whether closing the borders would make any significant difference to the situation in the UK.

The lockdown is a rather blunt tool. It’s a list of permissible activities – a straightforward public health message that can be quickly conveyed. It’s not perfect – jogging or cycling can still result in injury, placing additional pressure on A&E. Perspiring and breathing heavily in public parks bring their own risks of transmission. You can still go to the supermarket as often as you like, for as long as you like, wearing no protection, even if you’re in a vulnerable group. So let’s not kid ourselves that this lockdown is perfect. And while we’re at it, let’s not kid ourselves that this lockdown is sustainable indefinitely.

Ideally, all activity would be assessed for its statistical probability of virus transmission, and a highly refined lockdown could then be issued. Unfortunately, this would be an impossibly complex public health message to convey. So what’s the way out of this?

As a libertarian, quite apart from the fact I have severe doubts over the competence of our current government, my feeling is that this should come from the ground up. It’s difficult to think of any industry, activity, pastime or sport that doesn’t have a representative or governing body. So consult. Ask each body to devise their own rules for minimising transmission, see what they come up with. Evaluate, contrast, encourage best practice, put the recommendations in front of epidemiologists and statisticians. Learn, consult, repeat.

This is the new reality. This is how to involve people in making the decisions that they’ll be asked to live-by. Either we help to drive this process, and enshrine our liberal values in it, or we sit back and spectate, as a non-consultative, top-down approach is adopted that moves our society further from its freedoms.

* Adrian May is a member in Edinburgh

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41 Comments

  • The purpose of the lockdown was to dramatically cut down the rate of infection to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed. It has achieved that aim. However, the lockdown cannot continue for several reasons. Modulation of lockdown severity could be used to control infections at around the current level but it would take decades to achieve herd immunity which requires about 80% of the population to have antibodies. It could take 12 to 15 months to find a vaccine.

    Such timescales are not acceptable because the economy would collapse, social unrest would erupt and the quality of health would deteriorate rapidly for a variety of reasons.

    Let us assume that 15% of people are vulnerable, that is no reason to keep 80% of people in lockdown. It makes more sense to keep the 15% in lockdown and let the 80% go back to work. The problem will be managing the interface.

  • R A Underhill 1st May '20 - 6:39pm

    “social unrest would erupt”
    especially in a country with lots of guns and an eccentric President.

  • Peter Martin 1st May '20 - 7:45pm

    @ Adrian May,

    ” So what’s the way out of this?”

    You, as a “libertarian”, probably won’t like the idea but it has to be compulsory testing of anyone who is even suspected of being infected. We can have thermal cameras at railway stations, supermarkets, even on the high street picking out those who might be running a temperature. They are then “arrested”, tested and, if found to be carrying the virus, compulsorily quarantined.

    We can set up a hotline so that any member of the public can report their suspicions on someone else.

    I’m not keen on the idea myself, but what’s the alternative? As you say “let’s not kid ourselves that this lockdown is sustainable indefinitely.” But, we end it prematurely, without having something to put in its place and just let the virus rip……….

  • Hopefully we will get self-tests with instant results which will at least get the airlines viable again (people tested at both ends of the travel, otherwise the closed air system in planes will get R way up). Taking people to testing centres against their will can’t happen because they are set up for the safety of the medics not the patient and therefore dangerous and possibly high in viral loads. Not sure the police will want to be poking people with cotton buds to get a sample, either.

    Possibly, the govn will only let people out and about if they have the new tracking app working on their phone (or some kind of device for those unable to work a smart phone), trackable by the police so they can see who is not using the app and fine them. Totally, non-Liberal but given the supine nature of the populace to the govn’s actions so far, almost mass brain-washing (whether for the general good or bad is another debate), then it will probably be taken up with what passes for enthusiasm.

    Once the virus is dealt with you then have the problem of taking down all this govn and police power, would the populace really want to risk the previous perilous world where “criminals” could no longer be tracked by the police?

  • The New Normal
    The sensible thing to do would be to aid the vulnerable to self isolate if they so choose.
    What we can’t do indefinitely is keep people who face very little threat from the virus in quarantine conditions. It is simply unfair, damaging and cruel. The risks are not equal. Most people who catch this virus barely know they’ve had it. The herd immunity v vaccine v lockdown argument tends to ignore the reality that this is not a deadly plague. It’s a new health hazard for people already in high risk groups and the focus should be on that rather than on pretending that everyone is in the same position. Social distancing and quarantine are not the same for young or youngish people who have social lives as it is for some older or ill people who are sometimes already pretty much housebound. The new reality is that everyone is mortal and death is something we all face eventually. The reason for the lockdown was to take pressure off the health services and it has more than done that to the point where other wards and A&Es are virtually empty. What it can’t do is make people immortal or young again or suddenly free of serious ailments. Nor should it be used to permanently restrict social behaviour.

  • John Faulkner 2nd May '20 - 2:59pm

    Glenn, to paraphrase your comment – I am dispensable.

  • John Faulkner
    No. It’s not a case of being dispensable or essential. I’ve seen lots deaths in my family, and amongst friends. They were all essential to me. I just don’t think what’s is going on is realistic or reasonable or should be normalised.

  • Glenn 2nd May ’20 – 9:00am………….The sensible thing to do would be to aid the vulnerable to self isolate if they so choose…..

    One of the most heartless and ill thought out remarks on here…

    This would effectively condemn the most vulnerable to house arrest. At the moment I, as an elderly person, can shop, dog walk, exercise in relative safety because those deemed not vulnerable will keep their distance from each other AND FROM ME..

    If/when that stops, without extensive testing/tracing or a vaccine, how can I, and those like me, stay safe without remaining at home?

  • @ Glenn “It is simply unfair, damaging and cruel.”

    I’ll tell you what’s ‘unfair, damaging and cruel’, Glenn : 27,510 deaths (equivalent to a packed Premier League football stadium), plus all the heartache and misery for all of their 27,510 families and their friends.

    I knew two of them…… a much loved gentle kind postmistress who would do anything to help the people in her village, and an elderly man, a decorated RAF war hero, decorated because he had the courage to do something to establish a better world in the future for people like you……

    It might be news to you, Glenn, but (as you describe them) ‘the vulnerable’ are people with rights too. If you focused on creative thinking on how to make this a better world it would be a better use of your time …….indeed it would be what liberalism is all about.

  • I have said it before and I will say it again, it is not just about capacity for the NHS it is about sustainability for NHS staff to work continuously under strenuous conditions month in month out with no end in sight because ICU is full of critical patients. It is manageable for a couple of months a year when we have flu season but it is not something that is sustainable 12 months of the year.
    Medics are still at risk of catching Covid with PPE and are exposed to high viral loads, most are working 12 hrs a day 7 days a week and many having to shield themselves from their own loved ones to protect them.
    That is not fair on NHS staff!!!
    They would drop like flies from exhaustion or stress and many I dare say would reconsider their jobs and if it was safe for them to continue.
    Without the NHS there is no economy, people would be fearful of leaving the house if they feared there was not a functioning NHS to treat them.

    So can we please stop this nonsense that the lockdown should end because this is a mild disease for 80% of those who catch it. The NHS would not be able to cope with the 20% for whom it does become critical and the knock-on effect for indirect health conditions/deaths because the NHS becomes strained.

    On a final point for those who are complaining about being locked down and having their social life leisure recreations curbed for a few months before you complain, spare a thought for people who born with disabilities that severely limit their access to the outside world, deaf and blind or with locked-in syndrome or any other horrid disease, they live with disabilities like these for years and years and yet here we have many abled body people complaining about being unable to cope with a couple of months of restrictions and limitations to their lives.
    Please get some perspective

  • Expats
    I think wanting everyone under house arrest, destroying incomes, keeping healthy adults separate from the family, friends and in some cases romantic relationships is heartless.

  • Dilettante Eye 2nd May '20 - 8:01pm

    sarcasm on !

    Glenn

    I’m fully on board with your release from lock-down. You’re right, it’s madness to erase our economy willfully, for the trifling benefit of the vulnerable few.

    I suggest we ask those that feel vulnerable to this virus, to wear a yellow star on their jackets when they go out, so that the we Covid invincible’s can give them a wide (2 metre berth).

    If they still feel vulnerable, we can always arrange to transport them into the safety of Covid free camps, where they can isolate themselves from Covid survivors, and let the rest of society get on with normal life as (pre 2020) ?

    sarcasm off !

  • Dilettante Eye
    Sarcasm not appreciated from this person with Jewish roots . How about instead we keep people at home for months on end, letting them get fat, depressed, unemployed and broke. Then run all the cities into the ground, destroy normal social interaction and then wail that it’s someone else fault. Not sarcasm. Because that is where we are headed and it will also kill people prematurely. Poverty always does.

  • @Glenn

    So what do you say to the front line NHS staff who you are asking to put their own lives on the line day in day out exposed to high viral loads, and many having to forgo contact with their own family and loved ones due to fear of infecting them, asking them to do this day in day out for months on end because “some” feel that this temporary lockdown is too much of an infringement on them and want the lockdown ended now?

  • David Raw
    It’s awful when people die. I was my Dad’s primary carer and first contact in final weeks (ventilators are a last resort and can actually cause fatal damage ) after my mum died. Death is ugly and it’s grim. I’ve seen seen my grandparents, aunties, uncles, both parents and a couple of close friends die. It’s a horrible thing. But it doesn’t make me agree that we should quarantine the healthy or destroy livelihoods and then talk about the resultant damage as “the new normal”.

  • Glenn 2nd May ’20 – 6:20pm…..Expats I think wanting everyone under house arrest, destroying incomes, keeping healthy adults separate from the family, friends and in some cases romantic relationships is heartless……………

    Glenn, if memoryt serves you were against enforced lockdown from day one..Again, if my memory serves, about a month ago you responded to one of my posts that enforcement should ‘never’ happen..
    Had we ( like NZ for instance), enforced it when deaths were just starting, enforced airport restrictions, etc. we might, again like NZ. be relaxing the regulations..
    Sometimes a libertarian approach makes it’s own problems…

  • Expats
    I was against the lockdown from start. But not because I’m a libertarian. I am not one. I think libertarians are basically in the wrong on most things. This is the new slur advocated by defenders of shutting the economy down, granting governments extra powers and locking people up in tower blocks. I’m actually just a liberal. I oppose the lockdown because of the destruction it is bringing and because I think it will become a hard to remove habit of government. In short I don’t believe emulating police states like China is to be applauded or should go unchallenged.
    .Re the rest of your post.
    People keep saying this and that country did this or that. However, no two countries seem to have done the same thing and no two countries seem to measure the infection or death rates in the same way. Britain seems to have left cause of death to discretion with no autopsies or testing. So we don’t really know what the true death rate from this particular coronavirus actually is.
    Which country is said to have dealt with it better appears to change from week to week according to fluctuating political fashion. China one week, South Korea the next and currently New Zealand.

  • Glenn 3rd May ’20 – 11:47am………..

    I’m not getting into hair splitting on definitions but, a month ago, your reply was that there are no circumstances in which a government enforced ‘lockdown’ should happen..If that isn’t a clear definition of a a ‘libertarian’ then we’ll always differ…

    As for ‘locking people up in tower blocks’, ’emulating police states like China’ etc. goes; that is pure hyperbole. They are free to leave for work, shopping, exercise (no limit as long as exercise time exceeds sitting about), dog walking, etc… How that differs for most people from ‘normal’ (apart from distancing) isn’t a great deal..I see far more walkers than I used to.
    As for removing the powers,,,During the miners’ strike I was stopped umpteen times crossing the Thames..Post strike, never.
    On a personal level the only difference (average house/garden) is the lunchtime pint and eating out. When my wife showed symtoms of Covid I self isolated for two weeks but I would consider that inconvenience as just acting responsibly in preventing my shedding the virus, unknowingly, in a supermarket, etc…

  • @Glenn

    You clearly do not want to answer my questions, so is it safe to assume that you have not watched any of the BBC, ITV, Chanel 4 programmes on Hospitals and inside stories of how they have been coping with the coronavirus?

  • Expats
    My definition of a libertarian is a free market zealot who support things like gun ownership, believes removing benefits from people, small government and so on. I think the rules that allow you to leave your house to work or for healthy exercise, but not to visit a friend or family member or partake in a religious activity or heavens forbid for romance is exactly the kind of thing you would expect from advocates of a police state. Work good/ exercise good/ fun/human interaction bad. But we are going to have to agree to disagree.
    Matt
    I don’t watch any television at all and even less now that I’m under house arrest, because I would occasionally encounter it while visiting people.

  • @Glen

    “I don’t watch any television at all and even less now that I’m under house arrest, because I would occasionally encounter it while visiting people.”

    Then how can you have an informed opinion unless you educate yourself with the realities of what is happening?
    You cannot surely argue that you can get all the info that you need from the internet and news outlets.
    I am persuaded by the arguments for lockdown A) because of my own personal circumstances and those of my family for whom we have several at risk members but also because B) I have seen and heard what is going on in on the frontline of the NHS staff who are dealing with this crisis and because I believe that it is not fair of us to expect them to continue to work under such strained circumstances month in month out putting themselves and that of their families at risk because we want to enjoy our freedoms.
    What about their freedoms, do our’s trumps theirs because they chose a medical profession and so just have to accept such risks?

    As I keep arguing, without the NHS there is no economy.

    Maybe you should watch the programmes and see first hand what is going on in the hospitals and you might form a different opinion or at least see things in a different light and accept some comprimises

  • Matt
    I read. They’ve been hiding information in the form of text for years. It’s an open secret. Anyway. I’m not getting into this with you. There is no point.

  • @Glenn

    I suggest you do not want to watch because you are not interested in hearing facts from people with first-hand knowledge and experience of what is really happening out there, you are blinkered to your own views and are not prepared to even contemplate anything else.

    “I’m not getting into this with you. There is no point.”
    That is your choice Glenn, but unless you are prepared to debate what is the point of coming to a political forum, just coming here to shout your opinion is neither constructive or informative for anyone.
    You are clearly uncomfortable with the questions that I put to you and are reluctant to answer them because you must realise somewhere deep within yourself there is something amiss.
    We are all equals in this world and we all have a right to life and to feel free and as safe as possible, that means sometimes we have to do what is right for the collective so we can all enjoy those freedoms once again.

  • Time for some common sense. Dr Chris Smith of Queens College, Cambridge on BBC TV just now, “One of the positive outcomes may be that everyone will be more conscious of hand washing and general cleanliness…… to the point it may reduce ‘flu outbreaks next winter”.

    How about translating it into central Government better financing of local authorities to target much higher standards of general hygiene and cleanliness and enforcing high standards about litter/dirt and filth – and pushing the same by transport providers.

    One outcome of the dreadful 2010/15 regime was increased scruffiness everywhere
    after cut backs in local authority financing leading to reduced litter clearing, road and pavement cleansing and waste disposal.

    I’m fed up of seeing piles of discarded litter on road sides and having to endure filthy trains and motorway service stations. Come on Jenrick/Patel time to crack down on it.

    Lib Dems could gain lost credibility by campaigning for a cleaner brighter Britain……… and….. could it be a reason why much cleaner tidier Germany has done better than scruffy dirty old UK in tackling this virus ?

    It could provide a new jobs and the world would be a nicer healthier place to return to from lock down.

  • David Raw,

    it is time for some common sense. Definitely agree with local authorities and transport providers committing more resources to improving standards of general hygiene and cleanliness, but it is has to be paid for by local council taxpayers and transport users like anything else. Opening the waste disposal/recycling centres (as Manchester has done) would be a good start to cut back on fly-tipping and give people the opportunity to clear their homes.
    Having seen some of the incidents of heavy-handed policing during the lockdown, I would be a bit wary of a crackdown on littering orchestrated by Jenrick/Patel. We don’t want to end up like this fellow in Singapore who was fined $300 for firing two rubber bands into the road https://www.businessinsider.sg/singapore-takes-littering-so-seriously-that-someone-was-slapped-with-a-s300-fine-for-shooting-a-couple-of-rubber-bands-onto-a-road

  • Matt
    You are not debating you are using the equivalent of “eat your greens, there are people starving in Africa” emotional appeals to make eating overcooked cabbage seem like a moral duty.

  • @ Joe Bourke “but it is has to be paid for by local council taxpayers and transport users like anything else”.

    Why ? Is it your view this is a local rather than a national problem ? Or will the bugs, rats etc., continue to spread while you wait for the Tories to introduce a Henry George type land tax ? As for transport I’d be happy to pay higher fares to get a decently clean train, tube or bus.

    Coalition (and later on, Tory) cuts ripped the heart out of local government. It’s high time to put it back in again if localism is to be more than an empty phrase.

  • @Glenn

    That is not true at all.

    How can you come to an informed opinion on anything unless you look at everything from all angles, you can not come to an informed opinion if you stop investigating once you hear/read something that you already agree with.

    You formed your opinion on the lockdown before it even happened and have been the most vocal from the outset, you refuse to even contemplate seeing this from any other angle other than your own and accuse people of emotional blackmail when confronted with something that you find difficult.

    In any opinion, I form on any matter to do with politics be it Brexit or this pandemic or anything else, I first look into how this makes me feel and my instincts on a personal level, then I look to how it affects those around me and others and then I will read and watch all that can from all the sides of the arguments not just from resources that I tend to naturally agree with and I will then come to an informed judgement, more often than not my end judgement will be one that was not the same as my initial instincts on how it makes me feel and I will change my overall opinion.

  • Matt
    I don’t just read things I agree with. In fact quite the opposite. What I think, is that people who support the lockdown don’t just want to impose it for an indefinite period they want everyone to shut and agree with them. I comply with the rules, but I’m not going to applaud them.

  • David Allen 4th May '20 - 1:48pm

    “As a libertarian… my feeling is that this should come from the ground up. … So consult. Ask each body to devise their own rules for minimising transmission, see what they come up with.”

    The perfect demonstration that libertarianism can’t cope with a pandemic. Let Cheltenham Races go ahead, if that’s what they want to do. Everybody should be free to decide for themselves, as sovereign individuals, to spread around however much virus they choose to spread around. It’s a free country!

  • @David Raw “I’m fed up of seeing piles of discarded litter on road sides and having to endure filthy trains and motorway service stations. Come on Jenrick/Patel time to crack down on it.”

    What’s the cause of a filthy environment? Why should people who don’t litter pay increased taxes to clean up after those who do? Have you ever been to Singapore?

  • TCO: “Why should people who don’t litter pay increased taxes to clean up after those who do? ”

    It’s difficult for me to tell if that is some form of irony, but the answer is, obviously, because we are a society and not a bunch of disconnected individuals.

  • @David-1 “It’s difficult for me to tell if that is some form of irony, but the answer is, obviously, because we are a society and not a bunch of disconnected individuals.”

    So if I get this straight, you’re advocating the punishment of responsible law-abiding citizens who don’t litter rather than the punishment of the anti-social law-breaking ones who do? And you accuse me of irony?

  • Glenn – I have no sympathy for you or that libertarian author, I am certain that both of you will be the first ones to scream against digital contact tracing. And, I just laugh when I saw that you are against any kinds of lockdowns from get go, even Korea-style targeted lockdowns. The greatest irony is that, restaurants and businesses are still open in Korea, while Europe has gone into far tougher and longer lockdowns because of people like you.

    By the way, I think we must not reopen until the following conditions are met:
    – R0 falls below 1.
    – Test capacity is at least tripled. You know, the case/test rate in the UK is 14%, while Canada is 6%. This indicates either massive undertesting or Covid is still kicking, or both.
    – Contact tracing app, preferably mandatory.
    – Temperature detecting implemented on large scale.
    – Daily case growth falls to well below 1000.

    Even after reopening, the following restrictions must be kept:
    – Large gatherings (e.g. street gatherings) and mass religious activities must remain banned.
    – Pubs are not to reopen, but allowed to serve takeouts/delivery.
    – Mandatory quarantine for all incoming international arrivals.

  • Thomas
    I just found out Britain has the highest death rate in Europe and the first case in France was in December. If lockdowns work so well why isn’t it Sweden or even Belarus. And since this is a highly contagious decease the French finding suggest it was probably already widespread months before lockdowns were ever considered, meaning that the death rate was much lower than the models suggested and that the lockdowns are possibley a pointless self-inflicted disaster imposed after the fact.
    I don’t want your sympathy. I think you are just a bit too excited about tracing people, locking them up and dictating behaviour for my tastes.

  • @ Glenn “highly contagious decease “.

    That is certainly true, but did you really mean to say that or was it just a Freudian slip ?

  • David Raw
    Just a typo. The point being that if this coronavirus has been around since December it was already widespread before lockdowns, making them pointless. Sweden according to the same models we used to impose lockdowns was supposed to have had 30,000 deaths by now. It has less than 3000. We may have taken a wrecking ball to the house to catch a mouse.

  • Phil Beesley 5th May '20 - 2:11pm

    Glenn: “And since this is a highly contagious decease the French finding suggest it was probably already widespread months before lockdowns were ever considered…”

    Or the logic slip? Given that the deceased was initially presumed to have died of pneumonia, and assuming that others may have been misdiagnosed as flu deaths (very variable seasonal number) etc, we don’t know how many have died of Covid-19. We only know that it circulated for a while before it was identified.

  • Phil Beasley
    The models predicted hundreds of thousands of deaths in the UK without lockdowns. If it was widespread months before the lockdowns beganand vast numbers of deaths did not occur that is very significant.
    We don’t know how many people have died of it now, because COD is often left to the judgement of doctors rather than testing or autopsies. Some people who tested negative for the virus are included in the death rate. Comorbidity further muddies the picture. Does someone die with it or of it? Heart problems, sepsis, cancers, flu, pneumonias and other infection can’t have all disappeared or been displaced by covid19.
    The point I’m making is that there are a lot of assertions that the lockdowns have worked, but the evidence is not that clear.
    PS
    I was wrong about Sweden the models we use predicted 40,000 deaths there by May 1st. It’s still under 3000.

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