With arrests being made in Bristol a few weekends ago, it is as clear on the streets as it is online that there are a wide variety of views on the necessity and effectiveness of a national lockdown.
Lockdown 2.0 reignited this debate as the repercussions of the first instalment were felt on the economy. However, this debate is dogged by many less lucid problems than that of simply being “locked down”.
The anti-lockdown conversation centres around scepticism of the relevant data, the significance of the secondary effects such as undiagnosed illness or spikes in domestic abuse and the libertarian lens through which the lockdown is seen as invasive, draconian and illegitimate. If we are to examine the rationale for these protests it is only fair to take note of the various causes of such public outrage.
In late October, Public Health England and Cambridge University projected a possible 4000 daily deaths as part of leaked news of a second lockdown. This figure was brandished by the BBC but greeted with open cynicism by many who felt it was unduly pessimistic and would be used to justify government action.
The COVID-19 modelling used in this instance was challenged by the UK Statistics Authority, a statistics watchdog who sited these numbers as lacking in transparency and confusing for the public. Soon enough, predictions proved to be inaccurate as deaths amounted to just under half the numbers predicted for the following weekend.
At the core of this debate is the cost to society of locking down, relative to the loss of life that would inevitably be the result of not doing so. However, medical professionals have estimated anywhere between 10,000 to 50,000 excess cancer deaths over the next two years. This is due to delayed diagnoses and treatment; these numbers were sighted during the first lockdown as hospital attendance dropped dramatically. This in itself is a far bigger problem than media coverage would suggest.
As the public quickly became more resistant to visiting hospitals, A&E admissions fell through the floor and 849 more weekly deaths at home have been recorded than would be anticipated based by the 5-year average. This suggests that people are dying needlessly in their homes out of fear or a misplaced sense of moral duty not to burden the NHS.
The economic damage that lockdown has generated has led to fewer payroll employees being registered, as we are all aware that the hospitality and entertainment industries have been hit hardest. The wave of unemployment carried with it secondary victims as economic recession can often be accompanied by a deafening break down in marital relations, spikes in alcoholism and domestic violence.
Panorama investigated domestic abuse as part of the initial lockdown and found that a call to the police was made every 30 seconds in the UK due to heightened rates of physical violence behind closed doors. This was exacerbated by the damning reality that working-class women are hit hardest by job cuts, as was published by the University of Warwick. As women occupy a greater share of 0-hour contract work in the UK, more have lost their jobs and even through the autumn were forced to spend lengthy spells in the home.
As calls for a national lockdown came from Labour and many others left of centre voices, the contrast between their outward political philosophy of representing society’s most vulnerable and the by-product of their Covid strategy suggests an immense cognitive dissonance. Whilst it can be said that the rate of infection and spread of the virus was quelled by the lockdown, the secondary effects are numerous and after several summer months of this same measure the virus does not appear to have been combatted effectively.
Very few of us are statisticians or virologists, however there is certainly a valid case to be made that the lockdown is not an effective option for the betterment of society at this point. There has been a framing of the anti-lockdown discussion as conspiratorial or immoral but depending on your priorities, personal experience or ideological persuasion, members of the public may arrive at very different conclusions regarding lockdown 2.0.
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