Coronavirus restrictions have devastated our society. Some are locked up with domestic abusers; others are facing economic destitution; millions of students have missed out on crucial education; and a mental health epidemic looms. To misquote Churchill, these restrictions are the worst form of dealing with a deadly virus, except for all the other options. However, because the calamitous implications of them are far more widespread than that of the virus itself, imposing them should be taken no less seriously than pressing the nuclear button, an absolute last resort.
In March, Covid-19 was new to the world. We had little idea what it could do to people’s health. Testing and tracing systems were non-existent, and the virus was multiplying at unprecedented speed. Government policy needed to be geared towards one thing: preventing an apocalyptic plague. Temporarily locking everyone up was, literally, the only thing left to do. Nine months on, we are no longer in the same position: we know another Black Death is not remotely possible. And yet, why are governments still behaving as though it is?
Take First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to lock up 5 million people in mainland Scotland for three weeks starting on Boxing Day and ban travel with the rest of the UK. We are told this was largely down to a new Covid variant that can transmit much more easily. Firstly, the border closure is just punitive and silly. Why not simply require negative PCR test results for all entering UK travellers? It can’t be any harder to enforce than closing down a border that doesn’t actually exist, can it? Besides, mandatory negative PCR results on all incoming UK travellers is a common-sense policy that Scotland should have introduced months ago anyway.
Also, when we look at Scotland’s current coronavirus numbers as a whole, it only confirms that Ms Sturgeon’s devastating three-week lockdown is unnecessary. At the time of writing, there are 60 patients with Covid in intensive care units (Scotland’s surge ICU capacity is just below 600). What’s more, Scotland’s average weekly coronavirus infection rates per 100,000 have been pretty stable at around 90-120 ever since the localised ‘4 levels’ were brought in. And whilst each one of the Covid-related 43 deaths in the last 24 hours is an individual tragedy, this number does not show a break from the trend seen each winter from diseases such as influenza.
There is no doubt that lives will have been saved by moving Scotland from its previous localised restrictions system to a complete national shut down this holiday. But it’s fair to assume that it wouldn’t be a particularly high number of people, since under the localised approach already in place, places that have high infection rates would simply be placed under a lockdown anyway, and places with little restrictions had very low or virtually no Covid cases.
So, my point is this: the Covid pandemic is a story of sacrifice, the biggest of which has been that the large majority of people have accepted to completely forgo their way of life in order to protect a vulnerable minority. However, given the widespread destructive effects of Coronavirus restrictions that have lasted for nine months now, at what point does it become morally unfair to keep squeezing dry this big majority of people, to lock up the sparsely populated residents of Dumfries and Galloway where there is barely any Covid, all just to save a few more lives?
I am not saying that we shouldn’t take the virus seriously, and just go back to our ‘2019’ lives. Obviously, Scotland’s coronavirus figures would look far worse were it not for restrictions already in place, and were they to skyrocket as a result of this new mutation, they would indeed need to be tightened. But they remain stable and the new ‘level 4’ shutdown hasn’t even started yet.
The way I see it, if you’re going to apply a blanket lockdown order to 5 million people over the festive season, it better be the last thing you consider. And it better be a calculated decision; the amount of life it saves has to be worth the much larger number of livelihoods it will undoubtedly wreck. This is the logic that was correctly applied in March when we had no idea of what the virus could do. But last Saturday, Nicola Sturgeon applied no such logic. The figures from a virus that we now know is overwhelmingly just a mild illness remain low in all categories and yet the restrictions coming our way will be detrimental to millions. It is not a fair balance.
Yes, the policy will save lives, but that’s not good enough anymore.