2021-07-22 14:15:42 UTC
Welcome to Britain’s reign of permanent terror, Covid-style. We have
become a nation addicted to fear, that relishes turning every triumph
into a disaster, every hope into a worry, every freedom into a danger.
We should be celebrating humanity’s brilliant, speedy defanging of a
terrible new virus, the drastic reduction in its ability to kill, the
millions of lives saved globally; instead, we are driving ourselves mad
with an absurd pingdemic, a botched “freedom day”, holiday chaos and
utter, abject confusion about the current risk posed by Covid. For
reasons that defy comprehension, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the
Opposition and the Chancellor, together with countless others, are all
simultaneously in self-isolation. If that is victory, or an armistice,
against the coronavirus, then what does defeat look like?
The reality is that thanks to the vaccines, Covid, including in its
delta variant, has been downgraded and is on the verge of becoming
normalised. It will now surely become endemic like influenza, which
kills some 17,000 in England in an average year and often a lot fewer.
Covid’s ongoing toll is likely to be roughly similar; a mature, embedded
virus would not require contact tracing and endlessly pinging apps, but
the adult population would need to remain up to date with vaccinations,
including jabs configured to protect against the latest variants.
Why, then, the continued panic? Why are so many still behaving as if we
were in March 2020, when we looked on aghast at pictures of collapsing
Italian hospitals, realising that our complacent world was about to be
upended? The lure of turning back the clock, of the risk-free zero-Covid
society, an impossibility even if every human being in the word were
double-jabbed, looms large over our public consciousness.
It shouldn’t. The radical reduction in the danger posed by the virus is
primarily down to the fact that 68.8 per cent of over-18s in England are
now double-jabbed. In addition, some 91.9 per cent of the adult
population would test positive for antibodies, suggesting they have had
the infection or are at least single-jabbed.
Such elevated levels of protection 16 months after the start of the
first UK lockdown would have been dismissed as hopelessly utopian last
March, a time when some “experts” thought it might take up to a decade
to invent, test and roll out a vaccine. The high rate of double-jabbing,
and the programme’s massive bias towards older, more vulnerable people,
is the reason why there are drastically fewer deaths at this stage of
the third wave than there were last time around. There were just 68
fatalities in England announced on Wednesday.
Yet this is still not good enough for the Zero Covid zealots. They deem
even such low death numbers – which sadly, will continue to trend
upwards for now – to be unacceptably high.
Britain would never have locked down had the original wave been this
mild, and yet there appears to be widespread support among swathes of
the public for continuing with all sorts of precautions for as long as
any risk of Covid remains – in practice, forever.
The goalposts keep shifting in an entirely unreasonable, absolutist
manner. We entered lockdowns because the Government feared 500,000
people would die; today, opponents of the “Freedom Day” measures would
reimpose massive restrictions to avoid 1 per cent of that death toll or
even less. Boris Johnson feared the NHS would implode, killing tens of
thousands more; today’s Zero Coviders don’t want a single operation to
be rescheduled or a single ward to be busy, even though the NHS’
structural flaws means this keeps happening.
The original aim was to vaccinate the elderly and vulnerable, and then
the over-60s before we could open up society again. Yet the more radical
pro-lockdown voices first extended this to all over 40s, and then to
everybody, including teenagers and perhaps even children, and in some
cases not just in Britain but also abroad.
They worry about Long Covid, and highlight that some of those who
recover, including younger patients, suffer from persistent symptoms.
While one must feel sorry for anybody in this condition, the scale of
the issue doesn’t warrant maintaining or reimposing restrictions. The
immuno-supressed are a greater problem, and more needs to be done to
help them, but again not at the cost of reimposing restrictions.
It is also possible that elevated case levels will accelerate the
development of vaccine-escaping variants. This latter concern must be
taken seriously, but the answer is for the Government to stand prepared
to roll out further modified doses if this turns out to be the case. The
jab needs to be authorised, mass-produced and distributed to millions
For such a rational, amazing species, we are singularly unable to assess
risk correctly. This is at once a blessing and a debilitating pathology.
We need mad gamblers: if Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk hadn’t believed,
against all the odds, that they could be successful, the tech revolution
would never have materialised, and neither would the age of private
space travel. But errors work both ways: we can be too pessimistic as
well as too optimistic. We were too relaxed about the risks of pandemics
prior to 2020, and now many people are too scared about the threat of
Another quirk of our psychology is at play here, too. For good reason,
we don’t treat all deaths equally. We are fine with some, but utterly
outraged about others, depending on whether we believe the death to be
in the “fair” category, or caused directly or indirectly by human
agency. We are relatively relaxed about cancer fatalities, especially
among the elderly; but will go to war for one single terrorist attack.
This generally makes sense, but is a serious challenge when it comes to
moving on from Covid.
If we are to start learning to live with the virus, the public needs to
accept that, like car crashes or heart attacks, some fatalities from
Covid are inevitable. If Boris Johnson and his government keep being
held responsible for every death from the virus, even when all those who
want the vaccine have been double-jabbed, we will never break free from
today’s fear-addled madness.
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