“I urge you at this moment of national emergency to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.” – Boris Johnson on 23rd March 2020.
The main purpose of entering a national lockdown on 23rd March was, supposedly, to avoid overwhelming the NHS – a catastrophic scenario which would have only resulted in the further loss of life. Thankfully this fear was never turned into a reality; the Nightingale Hospitals which were built to cope with overflow patients remained almost empty at the peak of the virus in April 2020. The UK government initially called for 30,000 new ventilator machines, but in the end the NHS capacity was never stretched. With that in mind one could argue that lockdown was a success. However, this argument is wilfully ignorant of the severe economic and mental damages lockdown caused and is still causing; the Claimant Count has risen to 2.7 million and will rise further once furlough ends. Leading Economist Nouriel Roubini has predicted 10 years of depression and debt will follow this lockdown. The pandemic is fatal to the few. The lockdown is fatal to the many.
The number of daily deaths in the UK from COVID-19 remain near to zero, despite a recent rise in cases. Only 1% of deaths are attributed to coronavirus, compared to 12.8% deaths attributed to influenza and pneumonia. A measure of the number of cases is not as relevant as the UK’s policy dependency on the metric suggests. A rise in tests is undoubtedly going to cause a rise in known cases. Despite this fact we remain cowering from life in fear of death; an extremely unlikely death for the average person. The new laws restricting gatherings to six people are insane; they will not be respected nor should they be.
The statement ‘it’s better to be safe than sorry’ is false when it comes to isolation. Lockdown is not safe. It is one of the most harmful policies the UK government has enforced in modern times. Liberty is everything: it is our right to challenge, to interact with other humans, to see our loved ones – it is non-negotiable. We must protect these freedoms or our free society will perish into one where people follow the orders of mediocre politicians who bow to flawed science and act on a desire to be seen to be doing the ‘right’ thing regardless of its detriment to our nation.
Coronavirus can certainly be life-threatening. However, our lockdown measures are a damaging overreaction clearly prioritising physical health over mental health. A study into the mental health impact of intense stay-at-home restrictions on 3000 people found that 64% of participants recorded common signs of depression. The centre for mental health predicts 500,000 more people in the UK will require mental health support as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Young people are especially impacted by lockdown which forces a violent change to their lives. Compared to other ages groups, people aged between 18 – 24 were three times more likely to experience loneliness after lockdown began. According to a survey in April, 44% of young people experienced loneliness compared to 16% before lockdown. It is unfair to impose such a harmful policy on those for whom the pandemic is mostly harmless. Whilst some brush over the importance of mental health, it is essential to protect it. Positive mental health allows people to work productively and it improves physical health, thereby reducing the strain on the NHS and helping our economy. Indeed, in England and Wales it is more likely people will die from suicide than COVID-19; there are an average of 15.6 suicides each day, whereas daily coronavirus deaths in the UK have not reached 15 since 4th August. Yet, we continue to prioritise our flawed mission to defeat the virus. We cannot continue this reckless limitation of human interaction to such a damaging and unnecessary extent.
This is especially true when considering the grave economic costs of lockdown. As mentioned in a previous article on the government’s ‘Magic Money Tree’, we are estimated to reach a £300 billion deficit this year with 7.6 million jobs at risk. Between March 2020 and April 2020 alone the British GDP fell by 20.4%, The government cannot continue to endlessly pump money into the economy to prevent a most severe depression. Hopes of a V-shaped recovery diminish as the government reimposes restrictions. The OECD estimates a 2% fall in GDP for every month of restrictions to deal with the pandemic. Further restrictions will only exacerbate and extend the economic crisis.
The costs of lockdown are clear, long-term, and terrifying. Most of all, they are not worth it. Lockdown is flawed. If restrictions are imposed every time there are surges of cases, the country will continue to re-enter lockdown time and time again until a vaccine is found – an unsustainable, mentally challenging, and costly ‘solution.’
The Swedish approach is by far the most superior way to deal with the virus. Rather than blindly follow the rest of the world into an extreme panicked lockdown, the Swedish pragmatically chose social distancing on a largely voluntary basis. Whilst there were some practical measures to contain the virus, such as no gatherings of more than 50 people, Sweden largely preserved its liberties. Education continued, socialising continued, the economy continued. The restrictions were still harmful; its economy shrank by 8.6% from April to June. However, this is a small decrease compared to the GDP fall other European countries experienced, with Spain’s economy for example contracting 18.4%.
Criticism of Sweden’s restrictions – or lack thereof – are weakened by the country’s ability to contain the virus. Although it held by far the highest death rates per capita out of other Nordic countries, it only recorded 188 new cases and no deaths from the virus on 15th September compared to 339 new cases in Denmark. Ultimately the lower amount of restrictions allowed the virus to spread more quickly and for immunity to build. As long as healthcare is not overwhelmed, the quicker the virus spreads around the better as it reduces the length of which any restrictions have to be imposed. Until a vaccine comes into force, COVID-19 will not be defeated, and can only be managed. Most countries enforced strict laws to ‘save lives’ which prevented people from truly living. Yet, Sweden has proven these damaging restrictions are not necessary.
There is also strong evidence which indicates the Swedish are better at social distancing. Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency conducted a survey in July concluding that 87% of the Swedish population followed social distancing guidelines to the same extent as they were up to two weeks earlier, largely thanks to having less to adapt to. The Swedish government has done something most governments have failed to do: trust their citizens. They have allowed people to largely make their own informed choices. The vulnerable and the elderly and anyone who fears the virus can isolate whilst the brave and healthy can keep up their social lives. To that end, Anders Tegnell’s modelling suggests that Swedes have 30% of the social interactions they had before the pandemic. Of course, there will always be ‘Covidiots’, but imposing patronising restrictions such as the ‘Rule of Six’ only encourages people to rebel like naughty schoolchildren under strict control and punishment. Indeed, is there anyone who has not broken a COVID-19 law in the last week?
Ultimately, the UK is at a tipping point. Are we to keep our heads down and trust that the government knows best? Or should we strive to challenge the state and therefore refuse to have our lives dictated by a small few in power? Such an extreme reaction to the pandemic does not deserve to be so dutifully followed without considering the dangerous costs to each person in this country. The recent surge in cases shows our government’s policy is flawed; the pandemic can only be defeated by a vaccine, not by lockdown. Statistics demonstrate the extent of damage lockdown causes. Sweden proves our harsh restrictions are not necessary.
There is little we can do about the past except learn from it. Little we can do about the first lockdown except analyse it rationally and realise that not only can it never be allowed to happen again, it should never have happened. Professor Neil Ferguson’s lockdown model which capitulated the UK into a full-scale lockdown was invalid. He advised that looser restrictions such as isolation of suspected cases and physical distancing of the elderly and vulnerable would only half deaths. He argued total isolation was needed, and governments around the world followed suit. However, Professor Ferguson’s predictions were neither public nor peer reviewed. A senior Google software engineer found the code has amateurish errors. Professor Ferguson himself admitted the code has thousand of lines of undocumented code. It is even more shocking when considering how wrong his predictions have been previously. For example, he predicted 200,000,000 deaths from Bird Flu. There were only 455. This casts serious doubt over the accuracy and reliability of his prediction that there would be 600,000 UK deaths from coronavirus without a full-scale lockdown. In what insane world would any government policy – let alone one so extreme – depend on such a flawed and unverified model?
We must now demand accountability for such a colossal error made by the UK government. A government which has not been brave enough to allow its own citizens to make their own choices. A government depriving us of our basic human rights.
The views in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of The Liberty Club