From John in Brighton: Time to Kick Against the Pricks?

20 October


In case you hadn’t noticed I haven’t eulogised to date for the Government’s Covid strategies or more precisely Boris and Matt – at least I’m far from alone on that. But I’m going biblical and take you to Acts 9:5 where Saul is on the road to Damascus and suddenly a bright light appears from Heaven and Jesus acknowledges Saul’s persecuting him and that it is hard for him to kick against the pricks. I wonder if the Cambridge dictionary had Boris and Matt in mind when they defined the meaning as “to argue and fight against people in authority”.  Meanwhile Oxford gives the meaning as “to hurt oneself by persisting in useless resistance or protest”.

Up until now I’ve strongly supported a strategy of social isolation, masks, test and trace, possible lockdown of varying extent and degree etc etc. But we’re in a rapidly escalating second wave, test and trace is a shambles, no vaccine on the horizon, morale is tanking nearly as fast as the economy and civil war is festering with a North-South divide, local versus central government and even Tory versus Tory. Maybe it is time for a rethink, a road to Damascus moment. The seeds were first sown for me not by the scientists or government ministers but by John Caudwell, the wealthy founder of Phones 4 u, speaking convincingly on Question Time recently. Hearing that he was a Tory donor triggered an instant Pavlovian response to rubbish all that he said which essentially revolved around a rethink of our strategy to Covid. A key factor was still unproven but some early evidence that the virus was losing potency compared to the spring, we had better knowledge of the virus and significant improvements in treatment strategies. The antiviral Remdesivir is effective and dexamethasone (a steroid) lowers mortality for the very sick. Ignore the Tory links and maybe, just maybe, he has a point. Quotidian health issues, physical and mental,  continue to play second fiddle with dire consequences to the wellbeing of the Nation and the economy sinks into an even deeper depression and that’s before Brexit really kicks in. Now is the winter of our discontent for sure but how best to mitigate that? Perhaps we should revisit herd immunity and focus on who constitutes the herd. Clearly sending the old and vulnerable into the frontline of viral attack back in the spring had predictable consequences and should never have been sanctioned. But we know the high risk group – those previously shielding, the elderly and those with various complex health issues . Most of my contacts of that ilk still remain very circumspect. Could it be that we now maintain and enhance support to the vulnerable but relax, rather than tighten, restrictions on the rest of the population allowing life, education, business, retail to continue in a more normal vein? This has been discussed but rejected as a policy but has a proper options appraisal been undertaken? It is not a case of which policy is the better but a Morton’s Fork and which is the least damaging. A more liberal approach for the majority does carry risk, still depends on the public maintaining precautions like social distancing and masks as best possible and will incur casualties and deaths but could it be that we look to the utilitarianism of Bentham and Mill – which decisions and actions will bring the greatest advantages to the highest number of people?

As one of the vulnerable I’ve been maintaining extreme care to protect myself irrespective of Government guidelines and I suspect that most others have done the same. I don’t envisage doing anything different for the next six months but would suggest that we need enhanced support as needed on an individual basis. Despite the Government mantra I found access to supermarket delivery spaces hard to come by in the spring and suggest they should be available as a given and free of charge. Food parcels only for those that are financially challenged – most of us don’t need these and indeed never accepted them. Access to technology for those who don’t have it and can’t afford it, free taxis in lieu of the bus pass when family and friends are unavailable, an occasional haircut at home  and other support as needed. I suspect most of us would ask for little seeing health protection as the overriding consideration.

As we increasingly reconcile ourselves to the fact that the Covid virus is to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future and probably beyond – even if a vaccine does arrive next year – then perhaps we also need to constantly review strategies and policies for how we all live those lives for maximum safety, wellbeing, education and economic viability. I don’t know the answers but advocate avoiding a tunnel-visioned approach.