It appears the public opinion snowball has picked up enough momentum, and the optics look favourable enough for prime minister Boris Johnson to consider a second lockdown, even if it is implemented incrementally.
And, while a tragedy for businesses and communities alike, I think the prime minister airs on the side of the prudent majority who, when pushed, would probably sigh and agree to observe tighter restrictions, if they are deemed necessary.
So who says a second lockdown is the wrong course?
Interestingly, however, the ‘herd immunity’ narrative appears to be moving into more creditable channels of public opinion. Granted, most don’t apply the exact verbiage of Dominic Cummings’ sinister-sounding master plan, but outlets such as the Telegraph, pundits such as Andrew Neil, and even the World Health Organisation Director General’s Special Envoy, Dr David Navarro, are now speaking out about the risks of a second lockdown.
WATCH: Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s Special Envoy on Covid-19, tells Andrew Neil: ‘We really do appeal to all world leaders: stop using lockdown as your primary control method’. Watch the full interview here: https://t.co/XLdaedsKVS #SpectatorTV @afneil | @davidnabarro pic.twitter.com/1M4xf3VnXQ
— The Spectator (@spectator) October 9, 2020
One of the driving forces behind the challenge to lockdown is infectious disease epidemiologist and Oxford Professor of theoretical epidemiology, Sunetra Gupta, who believes that the economic and social harms experienced by the worst off – in the UK and in poorer countries – outweigh the potential harms the virus might cause. She adds that areas which have already been hit hardest by the virus, are less likely to see the same degree of reuptake.
Speaking to the Biomedical Scientist magazine about the suspected second wave, Professor Gupta stated that: “It’s not really a resurgence. It’s just where it didn’t increase in the first place. Now all the barriers have been removed, it is increasing. I don’t see any surprises in that pattern. What I do think is interesting is that it’s not resurgent in many areas that did suffer the full brunt of the pandemic, so in London, New York, northern Italy, Sweden.”
Her view is that herd immunity has not yet been reached, but that early signs of resistance appear in certain geographies. She states that the next step is to use serological testing, and try to determine not just who has COVID, and what proportion of the population has been exposed to it.
On the prospect of a second lockdown, she says that: “I don’t see any clear and rational thought behind it. More importantly, my primary reason for being vocal has all along been my deep concern about the economically vulnerable, in this country and globally. I am terrified when I read reports of 260 million people going under the poverty line as a result of these measures. We also have to think of the young and what they have been denied.”
The alternative to lockdown, however, still appears somewhat fudged, and awkwardly apologetic about what it would mean for the safety of vulnerable people. She adds: “I think the best strategy for protecting the vulnerable is to shield. Obviously mistakes were made in terms of sending infected people back to care homes. I think we should be very careful, especially when we move back into winter. But in many parts of the UK, the infection rates are down to a point where people can make a sensible decision about what level of risk to take.”
Professor Gupta adds that the initial Oxford study of the virus’ spread also noted that the disease may have appeared in the UK a month before it was officially declared. This loss of time likely limited the effective roll-out of key preventative and research procedures, which could have been used to identify key characteristics about how the virus transmits, and where.
“We’ve been looking at blood banks in Scotland and can see infections going up in mid March, which suggest the virus was there in February. Then there’s the work in the sewers where they’re looking for the virus. I think it’s important to have these sentinels in place to try and see when the virus arrived and where it spread.”
Overall, though, she believes the political outlook is skewed, and that the UK’s efforts to cocoon, are plunging tens of millions around the world into destitution: “I think it’s important not to look at the situation along the one dimension of ‘how are we going to get this under control?’ We must consider all the consequences. I think we also need to take a more holistic view and not just this individual, nationalistic view. Think globally, think internationally.”
COVID teaming, looks to blight Christmas
Not quite as cheery as Bing Crosby’s holiday classic, but it appears that despite the threat of business closures, isolation, life being put on hold, and now the very credible counter-narrative of millions being pushed back into poverty, the UK might observe a second lockdown over the festive period.
Hopefully the government has learned lessons from round one – including not turning care homes into incubation chambers, and not handing billions in taxpayer funds to companies who don’t pay UK corporation tax. For now, Boris has given himself the traffic light system, which will probably afford the PM a couple of weeks to decide whether the public are calling for escalation or de-escalation of lockdown measures.
He still remains in an unenviable position, stuck between the centre-ground who are likely, onerously in favour of a second lockdown, and his more ardent right-wing, who are thoroughly fed up of restrictions.
Though only representative of my small following of Twitterati, here is the response to my question, ‘Would you agree with existing/new Covid lockdown measures over the Christmas period?’:
— Jamie Gordon (@JamieJourno) October 4, 2020