A second lockdown has not yet been justified - Brian Monteith

Covid-19 was meant to be an existential threat to our country and beyond; it was meant to threaten the deaths of 500,000 British people if the Government did nothing, reducing that to 250,000 if interventions including a lockdown were made; and, it threatened the very existence of our NHS and its ability to look after us.

Scotland's new tier system comes into force as England looks towards a second lockdown
Scotland's new tier system comes into force as England looks towards a second lockdown

Although sceptical of the questionable modelling of statistics that produced huge numbers of deaths, I was, like the vast majority of British people, willing to support the initial three-week lockdown to buy the NHS time to scale-up its capacity to cope with whatever the virus brought. It was beyond question the NHS would not be able to cope, not because of anything being claimed of the virus itself but because the NHS always works at near full capacity – why else do we have waiting lists and waiting times that ebb and flow?

Although there were undoubtedly problems and mis-steps, if not incompetence, our public services put its shoulder to the wheel while the private sector reinvented itself to find solutions to the obvious shortages in ventilators, handwash, PPE, ICU beds – and the armed forces handled logistics, testing and erecting Nightingale Hospitals. Major Tom inspired the nation and was one of many who by example encouraged us to put up with the straitjacket.

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Although there were severe restrictions on business activity the Chancellor mortgaged our economy so we might soon be able to revive it out of its self-induced economic coma. His schemes were, by international standards, amongst the most generous and when representations were made he often listened and provided further funds by borrowing from a future that most of us will never see. Considering how long it took us to pay off WWII war debt I calculate my three grandchildren, none of whom are over five, will be near pensionable age when the debts might finally be paid off.

A pedestrian walks past Coronavirus posters Islington yesterday

Finally, not after three weeks – but after three and a half months – lockdown began to be eased.

In that time we have learned many lessons, the first of which is glaringly obvious. Lockdowns do not beat the virus: they do not eliminate it, extinguish it, eradicate it or defeat it. They simply delay the inevitable spread of the virus through our community – which means every time we relax restrictions there will be a further rise in infections, hospital admissions and tragically deaths. If the first UK lockdown bought the NHS time to cope with the visitation of the virus then why does England need a second lockdown – with, in all probability, the rest of the UK following suit (if to only access HM Treasury funding)?

The second lesson is there is no settled science on the likely spread of the virus through our communities and its impact; or the efficacy of testing to tell who has Covid-19 or what is happening; or the reliability of Apps to manage people, or the ability to predict with any accuracy the outcomes across our communities. We have been shown graphs of exponential growth in infections that will correspondingly lead to massive numbers of deaths and yet as every week passes those charts become risible – for while the growth of infections appears to exist we do not know for certain and it is considerably smaller – and in some areas has been declining.

Up until Saturday the UK Government believed the data suggested regional restrictions were the best way to manage the pandemic as we try to revive our body economic while learning to live with the virus. Then new projections were presented that inflated the possible deaths to over 4,000 a day – approaching four times higher than the worst day recorded in the first wave. Why? On what basis?

The third lesson is our politicians, some union leaders and many in positions of great influence cannot be trusted. We are used to politicians lying to us, but the willingness of academics to misrepresent if not twist the data is an obscene breach of trust that undermines support for fresh restrictions.

Next is the broadcast media which, almost to every channel, is unwilling to give time to academics or specialists of unimpeachable reputation who cast doubt on the government – only in the print media and some social media channels (despite the likes of Google and Twitter) are we able to discover and share information that asks questions and provides answers to what our governments are doing.

The fifth is our counterproductive devolved response through different governments – some looking to compete and claim for their own political advantage they are better – has been ruinous to having a simple and clear message making communication understandable and observance optimal. We must ensure any future pandemic response is handled universally across the UK in future (which still allows for local variations in restrictions to reflect different conditions).

Taking all these lessons together it is no wonder I see many members of the public turning to a variety of conspiracy theories as to why the restrictions are being imposed on our freedoms to work, say goodbye to loved ones, or express our thoughts and worries. The only way to ensure we can maintain respect for our rule of law, our institutions and those who work for them – which is vital at this time of societal crisis – is for our politicians to release all the information they are basing their decisions on. Only full transparency will cleanse our society of growing cynicism and willingness to challenge the restrictions.

I do not expect this second lockdown to end on 2nd December or for its justifications to stand up to scrutiny – nothing that has gone before suggests otherwise.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org

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