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COVID - Who are being caring and who are being callous?

Many mothers despair at what we are doing to children by constant testing, closing schools, sending children home, cancelling events children have been working for and looking forward to - all in an attempt to halt the spread of a virus that doesn't harm them. And yet . . . people who are critical of these things get castigated for being callous and uncaring. This is a response.

I want to answer those who say that people like me, who are sceptical about lockdown rules, are being callous about people dying and being seriously ill.

The short answer is that we do indeed care about people dying and being ill, but also about much else. The world – not just Britain – has been so focused on the perils of Covid that we ignore so many other things. Let me explain.

Lockdowns are not cost-free. By lockdowns I mean to include all the related things like school closures, social distancing, test-and-trace, working from home, mask wearing, border controls – all the restrictions that have been devised in an attempt, often vain (perhaps normally vain), to halt the spread of the virus.

These costs have been massive and continue to be so. They include causing people to die prematurely: there have been much reduced diagnoses and treatments for cancer and other life-threatening conditions. Stay at home orders have caused increased mental health problems. There has been an increase in suicides. We read of marital and family breakdowns. The most alarming aspect has been closure of schools, relying on “distance” learning, imposing restrictions on children who are relatively unaffected by the virus - causing vast swathes of the population to miss out on key aspects of a proper education. None of these things are easy to quantify. Not so easy as counting the number of new “cases” of Covid. But we are mad if we don’t take proper account of them.

In talking about costs, I have deliberately refrained, so far, from mentioning costs in the more obvious sense, simply because some people say “Oh, that’s just money. We’re talking about the lives of people”. But we ought to remember the obvious point that people in our society do actually need money, and a thriving economy, to live their lives and, frankly, to support a health service that will help us not to get seriously ill or to die prematurely. One of the big questions already is how long it will take us to recover from the horrendous economic damage lockdowns have already done. More lockdowns will throw more people out of work and do yet more economic damage.

All these things are the essential reasons for resisting any notion that being sceptical of lockdown means being callous. Sceptics are trying – sometimes, desperately, in the face of anger and hostility – to focus on the bigger picture, to get people to think about those dying from other causes and those whose lives are being seriously damaged in countless other ways.

But many are pointing out that Covid is still a threat. Yes, of course it is – and so, the experts tell us, it will continue to be. It won’t go away. It is endemic. But will we ever be safer than we are now? The evidence from South Africa suggests that the latest omicron variant is milder in the sense of being less lethal. Also, we are vaccinated against its worst effects. How many people must we allow, by more lockdowns, to be killed and damaged in order to protect us from what we are advised is a milder virus? How many generations of children must we deprive of education? Who is being callous?

There is a final thought. Many of the consequences of lockdown affect poorer people more than the relatively affluent. Middle class people are more likely to be able to work from home. Many enjoy it. Those who work manually, including those in the hospitality sectors, are more likely to lose their jobs. And finally, children of middle class families are more likely to be able to do their “distance” learning relatively satisfactorily. All of which will tend to exacerbate the divisions in our society. This should make supporters of lockdown think harder about the collateral effects than I suspect they do. Should they really be allowed to get away with the idea that sceptics as being callous and insensitive?

19 December 2021

Tony Herbert

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1 Comment

Dec 21, 2021

I do so agree with what you write, Tony. Why the media and politicians of all colour have been so supportive of the Government’s response to Covid and in the continuous culling of our liberties is beyond me. The most basic principles of cost benefit analyses seem to have been lost or discarded. Had all the consequential costs, social, educational, health, financial and so on been properly considered surely we would be in a different and better place now?

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