It’s May Bank Holiday 2021 and, at last, the sun is shining. After the driest April on record we seem to have had one of the wettest and coldest May’s on record. The pandemic still lingers with a new “Indian” variant causing concern that the restoration of our long-awaited freedoms will be further delayed beyond 21st June. But one thing that the last year has demonstrated is that there have been too many false dawns and that this virus has an uncanny knack of creeping up on us again with another tsunami wave of infection, just when we thought we had it beaten. Look to India itself for evidence of that phenomenon. Understandable frustrations at the curtailing of liberties are building as pressure builds to re-open the economy, international travel, and to end social distancing and the like.
The vast majority of people are cautious, realising that “the science” is not the definite article. It is a number of theories and conjectures, built on the best available evidence but, even so, following “the science” is still an act of looking through a glass darkly. There is a trinity of tension between lives, livelihoods, and lockdown. These three elements pull in different directions. Put brutally: How many lives is it worth risking for the sake of the livelihoods of those whose businesses cannot open because of the lockdown? This is a very real equation that the politicians are trying to resolve and in doing so, where is their moral compass? The three-fold mantra of “Stay safe, protect the NHS, save lives” is not the whole story. “The science” of herd immunity, if this was ever government policy, places the economy as the prime mover over and above people’s lives. Is this not immoral as it places commerce before people? In this dytopia the weak and vulnerable are expendable for the sake of the majority. The herd needs to be protected and the weak can be thrown to the lions of disease and death. If this was government policy then the cure is worse than the disease and serious questions need to be answered.
However, I fervently want to believe that none of our politicians get up in the morning thinking “How can I screw up today?” I hope my faith is not misplaced. Mistakes will have happenned and, no doubt, the public enquiry, whenever it eventually comes, will highlight some terrible errors through the perfect lens of hindsight and the spotlight of a media that has an unerring ability to sound “holier than thou” whilst disregarding their own calamitous failings. (Remember Martin Bashir or the helicopter circling around Cliff Richard’s property?) The model of truth and reconciliation adopted in South Africa following the end of apatheid may come to our aid when the pandemic gives way to the endemic nature of Covid-19. We need to hear the truth and face it square on, but we also need reconciliation and healing. That is something very difficult to achieve in the adversarial climate of our political arena.
Finally, when this pandemic passes into history, in the same way as the pandemic of influenza following WWI has done, we will still have immense issues to face, not least the spectre of climate change and our own march towards self-destruction.