How do we think about the UK lockdown debate?

The coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented isolation measures throughout the world. One effect has been the creation of ideological blocs across traditional party lines, lobbying for different approaches to containing the virus. UK lockdown came into effect on March 23, shutting down non-essential business and movement outside the home, bar a single daily outing for exercise. Critics variously describe this decision as too late, too little, too much and overblown. So, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?

The libertarian position, or 'End lockdown now!'

At the heart of this approach is the belief that lockdown is a violation of fundamental human rights. Its proponents range from the UK alt right, to high court judges, to commentators seeing the closure of British drinking holes as a bleak symbol of authoritarian rule.

Lockdown puts us on the path to totalitarian rule

Advocates point to Hungarian Premier Orban’s rapid increase in power during the crisis as an example of what’s to come if lockdown remains. This group considers lockdown a form of latent despotism that will threaten civil liberties in the post-pandemic world. Proponents include former Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption and Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens.

The state should not control the individual

This view sees lockdown as a state-sanctioned siege and violation of basic constitutional rights. Proponents advocate flouting social distancing rules to seize back their individual freedoms, and ‘liberate’ themselves from state control. Proponents include the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the US gun rights lobby and alt-right activists The Proud Boys.

The greater good must come first

Coronavirus overwhelmingly affects those with severe underlying conditions, whose health was already in jeopardy. Making hardline policy decisions to simply extend the low quality lives of sickly individuals comes at the price of economic destruction. It is wrong to prioritise an infirm minority, when the repercussions could devastate quality of life for generations. Proponents include German MEP Jens Gieseke and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

The UK lockdown model is false

Professor Neil Ferguson's model has a shocking record of misinformation and flawed analysis. During the UK foot and mouth crisis, he also contributed defective models. For these reasons, we should disregard his predictions and end the lockdown.

Death rate predictions are rooted in lies

Guttenberg Institute Professor Sucharit Bhakdi leads this charge, pointing to the vast cleavages between predicted and realised corona death rates. Underlying this position is the point that lockdown is based on phoney data and bad science.

The government cannot be trusted

With conflicting information spouted from country to country and leader to leader, it is impossible to trust anyone claiming authority on the subject.

Most people have already had the virus

According to Oxford epidemiologists Sunetra Gupta, 68% of the UK population have already been infected with the virus and are therefore immune. In this case, the lockdown is doing unnecessary harm to our economy and our lives.

The pandemic will kill, lockdown or no lockdown

The coronavirus model to come out of Carnegie Mellon predicts that regardless of lockdown, the virus will create panic and kill huge numbers. Professor Wesley Pegden's model shows that unless large numbers of people are exposed at one time, lifting measures will cause the same harm as keeping them in place. In which case, why not end lockdown now?

The nanny state position, or 'Let the state look after us'

This approach believes that the role of the state is to look after its citizens. It considers alternatives to lockdown, which give the state control to monitor the movements of its people for their own good.

We should relax the lines between the public and the private

South Korea has managed to control the virus by disseminating a phone app alerting citizens when they have passed someone infectious. Handing personal information and disclosing one's movements to the government may be the most effective solution. Proponents include Chair of the WHO Dale Fisher and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The role of the state must adapt in times of crisis

UK Premier Boris Johnson is fully representative of this position. Having spent his career deriding state interference in personal affairs, the pandemic finally pushed him to introduce the lockdown. The driving idea here is that wherever you stand on the role of the state, during this extraordinary period of global uncertainty, it must assume control of its people to guide us safely forward. Proponents include UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

Give the healthy their independence back

The success of Wuhan's reopening is widely seen as down to their large-scale screening programme. Given the scant and unreliable reports of reinfection, many argue those not at risk should be given 'health passports'. These would allow the gradual reopening of society to those deemed safe by the government. This group believe that it is not right to deny freedom where the individual poses no harm to themselves or others. Proponents include the pharmaceutical lobby, with UK biometrics firm Onfido and Swiss drugmaker Roche already submitting patents for their design.

The state should end lockdown in phases

Advice from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Business says there is only one way to minimise deaths in the reopening of the country: in phases based on individual vulnerability. The government must decide which groups are immune to the disease and phase normality back.

The authoritarian position, or 'Do not lift lockdown!'

This approach is rooted in a belief that during crises, the state should centralise control of social and economic affairs. Proponents range from UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, to an estimated 75% of the British public.

We must trust Neil Ferguson's model

The implications of Neil Ferguson's model are clear: lockdown or death on a catastrophic scale. It was Ferguson's forecasting of up to 500,000 UK deaths which resulted in lockdown. If this is the most accurate model we have, it is imperative that we trust it to guide us.

Public health supersedes any other consideration during the pandemic

The fundamental role of the state is to protect its citizens. It is an aberration that anyone might argue economic growth should take precedence. As Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty has said, the only viable way out of this crisis is the discovery of a vaccine or a drug that will reduce transmission rates and impact. Any relaxation is dangerous, with the only known outcome being avoidable deaths.

Despot now, doughnut later

Amsterdam has already announced it plans to introduce Oxford University's so-called "doughnut model" to rehabilitate its economy. Critically, this viewpoint sees lockdown as necessary, but longterm economic damage as optional. It suggests current growth models are outdated, and that contemporary ideas, which consider social factors and environmental health, are the way to avoid a post-pandemic depression. This model is largely championed by third sector players, including Oxfam, who see it as a route to longterm sustainable development.

Lifting the lockdown will give rise to a police state, which must be avoided

This group understands that there are multiple workable options to ending lockdown. And critically, that each will have a unique transformative effect on society. They argue that relaxing lockdown comes at a price: individual freedom. Methods that have worked in other countries rely on the government handling and tracking citizens' data. Many see this, and suggested initiatives such as Matt Hancock's "test, track, trace" app as the population complicit in the building of a surveillance state. Proponents include International Editor of the News Statesman Jeremy Cliffe.

Lifting lockdown forces workers to risk their lives during the pandemic

With the economy in a state of flux, many workers will have to return to work if lockdown is relaxed. This situation is dangerous when there is no known cure, and businesses do not have to make guarantees on worker safety. Ultimately, people will be forced to risk death to stay financially afloat due to a situation beyond their control. Proponents include the UK Labour Party and trade unions.

The collective coordination state

The state is there to help us coordinate our actions when each has legitimate claims on the other

The lockdown solves a problem of private and social cost

A lockdown provides a subtle means of motivating individuals to bear a social cost and engage in solidarity. The lockdown may be lifted as less invasive means of coordination become available.

Test, trace, isolate, protect

The strategy of building capacity to test, trace, isolate and then protect an increasing part of the population has worked in other countries.

We should stop the virus from spreading

The only way to stop the virus from spreading is to isolate everyone who has it or has been exposed to it. Currently, there are no vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. Unfortunately, many more people will be affected if effective measures are not implemented to quarantine infected individuals.

Contact tracing apps can potentially help individuals monitor their risk of exposure and transmission

Many large technology companies are developing apps that can track COVID-19 infections. They can warn individuals when they have been exposed to the disease and they can even mention places to avoid. Such a technological solution could potentially help defeat the virus.

More public health jobs would be created in the UK

The contact tracing strategy would be entirely reliant on public health workers and contact tracers. People can be easily and quickly trained to fill these positions. They would not only offer valuable advice to the public but also reduce the number of hospitalizations and help the economy rebound.

We need to support the test, trace, and isolation infrastructure

For test, trace, and isolate to be successful, it requires the cooperation of all populations. Younger generations have been flouting lockdown rules and guidance, putting others at increased risk.
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This page was last edited on Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020 at 09:14 UTC