This is a headline in today’s Guardian –
England: police to get power to use force to impose coronavirus lockdown:
“The Guardian has learned that, under plans being discussed by ministers and senior officials, officers would first encourage and cajole people to go back indoors if they suspect them of being out of their home in breach of the ban. If that and the issuing of a fine failed, reasonable force could be used as a last resort.”
If I were a copper I wouldn’t want to get too close to anyone let alone have them in the back of the squad car. The words “reasonable force” have always pricked my ears up.
Navigating between responsible behaviour and civil liberties is a challenge. These are the Government guidelines for social exclusion.
- “shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
- one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
- any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
- travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
These four reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.” Gov.uk
Just one form of exercise a day reminds me of a penal routine, of overly prescriptive authority.
Then there’s negotiating the social pressure from friends, colleagues and the wider community. Being seen as a sanctions buster would not be a good look , especially in the eyes of Brightlingsea’s elderly, conservative population.
But beyond the hype what is the relative impact and an appropriate response to Covid-19 ? bearing in mind on average 20k die of flue annually in the UK (p51)
For sure, social isolation can buy time to prepare services, and limiting personal movement may require emergency legislation (ideally subject to regular parliamentary review). I’m not suggesting we play down the severity of a global flu pandemic or doubt expert opinion, nor neglect the need to minimise the risk to the populace from their own unhelpful behaviour. However, as a former nurse I’m also aware of the practicalities of the measures being proposed, as a researcher I’m wary of how statistics are used to pursue agendas, and as someone old enough to remember a funkier public enemy I’m wary of believing the hype.
The planet breathes more easily with less oil fumes, there’s less drinking, more cycling, walking, family time and supportive communities. And with McDonalds, Greggs and Subway all having closed this week, people will likely cook more with unprocessed ingredients. The current situation is not without benefits.
A good friend once questioned who would be the first to turn off their heating to combat global warming, perhaps the answer to that is everyone when they’re made to.
But I’m also wary of other, less desirable consequences: isolation, anxiety, fear, depression, loss of dignity and comfort for elderly folk approaching death, unemployment, boredom and social exclusion, economic meltdown and widespread fear. If the fatalities remain comparable to the annual flu death count, then the measures will be lauded as successful, if not a more stringent regime is likely.
I’m intrigued by the moral and ethical questions being raised, that for me reanimate philosophers like Hobbes and politicians like the founders of the American constitution.
(An article in the Guardian, published a few days after this one is more erudite.)
Any government would likely find itself in an invidious situation, facing criticism that it hadn’t gone far enough and was unprepared and sluggish to respond. Perhaps if the severity of the threat merits radical action, then the focus should be on promoting personal responsibility. Recent drastic measures have undoubtedly caught people’s attention, dominated every media, but people will inevitably tire of restrictions and if the government responds to that with more draconian legislation then I fear the consequences.
I think it sensible that the public response to the national call for community volunteers has been publicised as it emphasises personal and social responsibility and will likely lead to more positive outcomes.