We’ve learned a lot about SARS-Cov-2, the virus which causes Covid 19, over the past few months. Thanks to extensive work by government scientific advisers and the subsequent enactment of policy we know that the virus is spread via sunbathing in the park but not via extra-marital affairs. We know it transmits easily between libertarians protesting against lockdown but not at all between more enlightened protestors such as those demonstrating as part of Black Lives Matter. We know it has some kind of weird hexagonal structure which means it passes much more easily when a seventh person enters a room or joins a group hobnobbing on a street corner.
And now it transpires that the virus is in fact nocturnal. It only comes out of its shell – or wherever else viruses hide – late in the evening. That can be the only explanation for the imposition of a 10pm curfew on bars and restaurants in the North East and the suggestion that it might be extended nationwide.
There is, though, a counter-argument: if you are trying to compress the window of opportunity which people have for an evening out, won’t that mean more people mingling at the same time? There is going to be a big queue for last orders at 9.45 pm, putting drinkers at risk from any viruses which rise from their daytime slumbers slightly early.
The long and the short of it is that neither the government, local councils, nor their advisers really know what they are doing. They merely see rising numbers of recorded infections and think they have to be seen to be doing something, anything. They are engaging in an unseemly competition to see who can dream up the most imaginative and extreme ways of restricting our freedoms.
Top of the tree so far is the Welsh county of Rhondda Cynon Taff, which, in an apparent attempt to emulate the Derbyshire plague village of Eyam, has banned anyone from entering or leaving for the next fortnight. My money is on one of the neighbouring valleys, not to be outdone, ordering everyone to don a hazmat suit and stay in their bedrooms for the next six months.
When they are finally satisfied that no virus remains, no doubt these same local authorities will be engaged in another contest: begging central government for money to rebuild their shattered economies.
But before that, their competitive efforts at devising local lockdowns might be blown out of the water by Downing Street. The Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had denied claims that he favours a second national lockdown, but the fact that the claim came from former WHO director Anthony Costello suggests that some people in power must have been discussing it.
What are they hoping to achieve? By the government’s own admission, lockdown does nothing more than to buy time – putting off the spread of the virus for another day. Far from saving Christmas, as the Prime Minister seems to think, imposing tough restrictions now will merely push the second ripple closer towards the festive season.
I use the word ‘ripple’ rather than ‘wave’ because that is what it is. Anyone listening to the panic would think we were back in the situation we were in March. But the modest rise in cases has not even nearly been matched by a rise in hospitalisations and deaths. Nationwide, there are only 901 patients in hospital with Covid 19 against more than 20,000 at the peak in April. In spite of recorded cases having risen since mid-July, hospitalisations and deaths have hardly flickered. Either the virus is becoming less deadly or the second ripple of cases is being exaggerated by a massive increase in testing.
Imposing tough restrictions now won’t make up for the government’s biggest error in this crisis: discharging hospital patients back to care homes in the spring without even testing them for the virus. All it will do is to confirm Britain’s position as the developed country whose economy is going to be most damaged by Covid 19.
The Denial by Ross Clark is published by Lume Books this week