“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The phrase from the United States’ Declaration of Independence which states our natural rights and which the executive is designed to protect and defend. Most governments all over the world are pursuing, as they see it, the continuation of life to the detriment of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If the choice were either life or liberty, I would imagine the majority would choose liberty, as they should. William the Conqueror in 1066 at his coronation set out the first element of liberty within the City of London. This ancient principle should not die, not now and not ever.
This country amongst many others in the world has decided to impose lockdown measures. Why, you may ask? The reasoning being to protect each country’s individual health systems and to limit the loss of life. The first element of the reasoning has been completed. There have been numerous temporary NHS Nightingale hospitals foisted upon cities around the country, with very little usage to much expense. The second element is slightly more complicated, as I will explain. Loss of life is an appalling side effect but is lockdown the best way to prevent it? I think not. We should, however, not forget the ancient principle of aegrescit medendo, meaning the remedy is worse than the disease, and to not react irrationally or with emotion.
Let us look at an anomaly in this situation. Sweden. Sweden has not gone into lockdown, unlike its Scandinavian counterparts and has allowed its citizens to use their own judgment and common sense to do what they believe to be suitable to themselves. The current judge of whether COVID-19 cases have reduced is looking at the ‘R’ rate. Our objective as a country is to have an ‘R’ rate below 1, and it is currently 0.8. Sweden’s is 0.85. This raises an important dynamic: might a voluntary lockdown work just as well, without the disruption to normal social and economic life? I would agree. The virus has indeed spread faster in Sweden and it has been predicted that it could result in 85,000 deaths. Their death toll is currently 2,860 and they peaked a fortnight ago, so the predictions were widely wrong and now Sweden is having a day-by-day fall in infections and deaths.
This plan is called folkvett and in scientific terms, herd immunity. This is simply the resistance to the spread of a disease within a population that results in a proportion of individuals becoming immune to the vaccine, through building their immune systems. Herd immunity is not uncommon and not wild. It is what every country in the world has done when dealing with a public health emergency. Was there a lockdown during the 1957 influenza pandemic? No. Does anyone know the death toll? 80,000. One could argue that it did not prompt an economic shutdown because the generation in power had a more sanguine attitude towards disease.
It does seem to anyone who flouts the idea that lockdown should not have taken place or should not continue much further is treating with a j’accuse anger. The simple thing is as German professor Sucharit Bhakdi repeatedly warned that deaths would occur from closing social life and economic activity. The hoi polloi seems to believe that those who make such an argument are putting life versus money. Quite the opposite – it is life versus life. Economic catastrophe causes death. According to the study of fifty-four countries after the Great Recession, the number of suicide deaths rose by 5,000 in 2009 alone. This crisis seems to be resulting in an additional borrowing cost of at least £250bn this year. This will have to be paid for, with hardship and austerity lite. The effects of a lockdown on economic activity is not simply just money. Poverty kills and when it does not kill, it maims physically and socially.
There has also been work taken place by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health which shows that no child has been known to pass COVID-19 on to an adult, and very little evidence to show it is transmitted to any person. This finding has led the Swiss government to allow grandchildren, under the age of 10, to hug their grandparents as they concluded that “young children don’t transmit the virus”. What does the world do, however? We shut down schools, colleges, universities, and nurseries. We deprive our children and young folk of the one thing everyone should be entitled to as a human right: an education. It has resulted in teachers now deciding their student’s grades in exams and foisted the teaching of a myriad of subjects onto parents, who are not qualified nor trained to teach in any field. This is not a sustainable solution for children and could conclude another ‘lost generation’.
There does also seem to be a view amongst the general populus that lockdown will ‘get rid’ of this virus. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I knew and had evidence to believe that keeping Britons under house arrest for two more months would result in an elimination of the virus, I would give it huge consideration. This is, however, scientifically wrong. Viruses change and mutate. They re-appear. There may never be a cure found and if there was, there would be some people who would object. There is only two ways this virus will disappear: either exposure creating immunity, or an effective vaccine, which could take many years.
The minute the British public or any country is allowed back to normality or ‘relative normality’, deaths and cases will increase. Then what? Announce another lockdown? An endless spiral of lockdown? Sweden will not go through this dilemma. They have no lockdown to ease. Deaths have been higher, but they are going down as the country’s populus has started to develop immunity from the virus. The Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, did once flout the possibility or idea of herd immunity in the UK but this was rejected by the politicians. We are now paying the price for not listening to our own experts and until we accept that deaths will rise, cases will rise when lockdown is eased, we will never get out of this.
The coronavirus is not the greatest crisis in our history. It is not even the greatest public health crisis in our history. But the lockdown is in no doubt the greatest interference with our personal freedom in our history. However noble the mantra of ‘saving lives’ may be, it is not the only valuable object. To say that life is priceless is just empty rhetoric. People say it because it is comfortable and emotionally satisfying, but they do not actually believe it. We passed the peak on Apr 8 well before the crazy measures introduced by the Government on March 23 could possibly have affected matters.
There is a lot more to living than being alive. Life is about challenge and about experience. Life is having drinks with friends and family. Life is going to the theatre or a football match. Life is companionship, love, friendship, and celebration. They are fundamental elements to our existence as social animals.
Ending this lockdown will be a political decision, not a scientific one. Lockdowns and state imposition are something that a totalitarian state like China would do, but not a country with liberalism at its heart. We need to consider what relationship we want with the State and the State needs to decide what relationship it has with its citizens. This virus is not the end of life and normality. We really should be thinking more imaginatively, and not following others. As Lady Thatcher said: “Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you.” Let Sweden be the latter crowd and let us embrace our Scandinavian counterparts.