Lockdowns are horrible. The costs, both to the Exchequer and society at large are almost unbearable. We are risking a lost generation of children missing more than a year of normal schooling. Unemployment is soaring. People are saying goodbye to loved ones through the sanitised inhumanity of video conferencing. The idea that this country could be plunged into this cruel dystopia for a fourth time genuinely frightens me.
Yet a fourth lockdown is a distinct possibility. Like it or loathe it, this U-turning Government has proved time and time again to be unusually responsive to the whims of public opinion. Panicky backbenchers have repeatedly caved to letter-writing campaigns, while policy on everything from to free school meals to grading exams has folded at the sight of negative polling.
It is through this lens that those of us who recognise the harms lockdowns cause must view the fact that, at every turn, public opinion has been decidedly on the side of anti-virus measures, in spite of their cruel side effects. Yesterday YouGov revealed most Brits love ten year prison terms for lying holidaymakers. Each and every lockdown is met with North Korean levels approval. And there is no way this government would hold out against a fresh wave of that kind of pressure. If infections spike again, another lockdown is a political inevitability.
And so, anti-lockdown activists and commentators need to wake up and smell the horrifying tide of public opinion. In this context, by opposing each and every temporary measure suggested that would keep out new cases, they are making a fourth lockdown more likely.
The maddening irony of the situation is those crying out against virus-suppressing measures on the grounds of (yes, egregious) breaches of liberty are actually making it more likely we’ll be left in the even more egregious situation of no liberty at all.
The only way to stop another lockdown and all its associated harms is to squeeze out the disease. This is not impossible. Australia has basically achieved this already – even without a vaccine. With Britain’s impressive vaccination roll-out, genomic sequencing, community testing capacity, and overall enhanced understanding of the disease this is by no means an insurmountable task in this country too.
By vaccinating the majority of adults, it is overwhelmingly likely we will succeed in reaching herd immunity. This means that while there will not be ‘zero Covid’, small outbreaks will fizzle out before they can become endemic, unable to find new susceptible hosts. This is the big prize – and it is tantalisingly close.
The one way in which all that good work is undone is if a scurrilous new variant evades the vaccine. Thankfully, in a well-vaccinated UK the chances of that are miniscule. We know the virus mutates where it is in general circulation – if we are well-vaccinated, there will not be the kind of mutations you see in countries with woeful vaccination and rampant Covid.
The solution is therefore blindingly obvious. To keep the UK free, to end lockdowns for good, we have to do everything we can to stop new variants being brought back into the country. And that means a tough border regime as the price for our internal freedom.
Closing the borders is of course painful for the travel industry as well as those with family abroad. But it is a hell of a lot less painful for literally everyone else. The regrettable binary choice we face is to decimate the travel industry and annoy holidaymakers – or ruin the rest of the economy and imprison everyone in their homes. It is plain which of the poor alternatives is better.
Crucially, delivering on a draconian border policy in return for domestic liberty will not be forever. Other countries will reach British levels of vaccination eventually, meaning we can bubble with the inoculated. And perhaps most importantly the Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Centre is being built in Oxfordshire. The UK is constructing world leading domestic vaccine tweaking and manufacturing capacity that will, once in place, be able to deal with new variants of the virus in real time, allowing for a true great reopening.
In the meantime, while the answer is not painless, it is simple: Open up society. Close the borders.
— to www.telegraph.co.uk