It is difficult to keep track of quite how many parties were held in Downing Street at the height of the national lockdowns. The hypocrisy smarts. Column inches are being filled with stories of isolation and distress on the very same date as the Prime Minister and Carrie Johnson were scoffing vol-au-vents (OK, I made up that detail, but there was wine…).
Do we, in all sincerity, believe the rule breaking was the primary issue, or might we reflect the rules themselves were at fault? In a crisis, occasionally the ends genuinely do justify the means. Nevertheless, there have been multiple points in the Covid response where rules have remained in force despite being nonsensical or inhumane.
Throughout the pandemic, we have looked on as atrocities have taken place. The dead were removed from homes by men in hazmat suits, leaving grieving families in isolation. I have been told stories in my GP surgery that have reduced me to tears. I think of a pregnant girl who attended hospital with stomach cramps, having tested positive for Covid. The maternity unit, alarmed by her positive ‘status’, asked her to stay in the car park and update them on her condition by telephone. Tragically, this young woman went on to deliver a stillborn baby in her car without medical assistance. Her whole life will have been changed by that trauma. Can this ever be justified?
Many will think of the Queen, sitting alone at Prince Philip’s funeral. An emblem of pain and isolation. How desperately she must have wanted to have her children and grandchildren around her. Everyone knew she was double vaccinated at this point — so why wasn’t she given the choice?
Many regulations remain in force today which reach beyond the necessary, and cause harm to millions. We continue to treat those who test positive for Covid (symptomatic or not) as lepers. With the transmissibility of omicron, coupled with a highly vaccinated population, the question lingers: is this proportionate? At what point will individuals be allowed to make pragmatic, informed choices again? Rules for rules’ sake can be enormously damaging.
As a society, we have accepted lockdowns and isolation guidelines without significant protest. The public believed they were necessary, although we now know government advisors were surprised by our compliance. However, as knowledge of Covid-19 grew, the government clearly relaxed their own approach. Our leaders knew full well their individual risks were lower than publicly implied: especially those previously infected, or after vaccination. Would Matt Hancock have been caught snogging Gina if he truly believed she might carry the plague?
There are huge implications for public trust, which extend beyond the hypocrisy of holding parties while the population were obeying lockdowns. For example, trust in medics and authorities at large must be diminished by a disingenuous representation of risk. Likewise, if doctors are willing to collude to profess that an unvaccinated 18 year-old is at the same risk as a diabetic 80 year-old, what else might they be willing to collude about? Even in a pandemic, integrity remains paramount.
The decision to lock down was taken when it was believed the deaths from Covid would prove catastrophic. Indeed, Boris was right: many lost loved ones. But once such an enormous (previously inconceivable) societal intervention has taken place it becomes far more probable it will be repeated. Yet to normalise lockdowns as just another measure in our pandemic toolkit is to knowingly turn a blind eye to millions of individual tragedies.
The country must strive never to go there again: our humanity should always come before infection control.