Lockdown fanatics scare me far more than Covid-19

Their extremism is a menace to liberty and livelihoods. They must be stopped.

Brendan O'Neill
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I know I’m meant to be scared of Covid-19. But I’m far more fearful of the lockdown fanatics. These people who are so blase about the halting of economic life, and who bristle at any suggestion that the lockdown should be eased, pose a graver threat to the future of the UK than coronavirus does. They are a menace to liberty, reason and people’s livelihoods. Our society is taking steps to tackle Covid – now we need a huge collective effort to face down lockdown fanaticism.

The lockdown fanatics were out in force yesterday. No sooner had there been hints from Downing St that the lockdown might be mildly eased than they had taken to their computers and media platforms to condemn such reckless talk of restoring a small amount of everyday liberty. #KeepTheLockdown trended on Twitter. Labour Party people insisted the lockdown must stay. Labour has effortlessly moved from being the party that wanted to keep us in the EU against the will of the largest democratic vote in history to being the party that wants to keep us all in our homes despite expert predictions of the largest economic contraction on record if we don’t get back to work.

Piers Morgan burst yet another blood vessel, fretting that people might go outside to enjoy the sunny bank holiday weather. The horror. Meanwhile, the TUC has spent the past week insisting that it is unsafe to allow working people to go back to their jobs. Yes, we now live in a country where a Tory government wants people to have the right to return to work and the TUC wants us not to. It doesn’t get more surreal than this.

And of course social media was awash with lockdown-loving leftists and millennial media types, at home making their sourdough bread and watching Normal People, fuming against any suggestion that the government’s cute experiment in dystopian welfarist living should be ended anytime soon. These people who can work from home – doing their public-sector stuff or making their ironic podcasts – insist that anyone who calls for a return to work is elevating the economy over lives. As if the economy isn’t lives, too. As if work, production and creating the wealth that funds health, schools and housing isn’t also about life.

It is testament to how distant the publicly employed or knowledge-economy middle classes have become from the sphere of production, from meaningful and useful economic life, that they can brush aside ‘the economy’ as a mere abstract phenomenon as they pop their latest Instagrammable attempt at banana bread, full of ingredients made, transported and sold by ‘the economy’, into the oven.

Sadly, the government seems increasingly incapable of withstanding pressure from the fearmongers in the media and cultural elites. And so it backed down. The lockdown will stay. Don’t break it or we will drag it out for even longer, Dominic Raab said, as if he is the headmaster and we his pupils. ‘Brits were told not to sunbathe in parks this bank holiday weekend or any new freedoms could be lost’, as the Sun summed it up. Go outside and lie down in a park at a safe distance from anyone else and you will have your liberty rescinded – this is the world we live in now; this is the awful reality lockdown fanaticism has birthed.

Here’s why lockdown fanaticism unnerves me more than Covid-19. The coronavirus pandemic is clearly a very serious health challenge. It is right that we take it seriously and that we devote as many of society’s resources as possible to ensuring that it doesn’t impact on the populace too harshly. It is right to propose social-distancing measures, which is what we had before the lockdown was imposed. But where Covid is proving to be less lethal than we first feared, lockdown fanaticism is proving to be more lethal.

The Covid threat is not the apocalypse we were warned about. Its death rate is low. Its impact on younger people is negligible. Just 0.75 per cent of deaths in the UK have been among under-40s, and the majority of those were people with underlying health conditions. And yet most under-40s – fit, healthy workers – remain locked at home, denied the right to work and play and keep society going.

The horror stories that were spread about Covid-19 by government officials and media fearmongers have been exposed as inaccurate, and in some cases hysterical. As the government adviser Professor Robert Dingwall says, the government has ‘effectively terrorised’ us into ‘believing that this is a disease that is going to kill you’. When in the vast majority of cases that simply isn’t true. As Professor Dingwall points out, 80 per cent of people who get the virus never have to go to a hospital, and of those who do, ‘most of them will come out alive – even those who go into intensive care’.

So, coronavirus is proving manageable. It has not overwhelmed our health systems. It is not the plague. It is mild or even asymptomatic in most people. Society can handle it. What society can’t handle much more of, though, is lockdown fanaticism. This is a more destructive force than Covid-19.

Covid is just a virus. It doesn’t know what it is doing. It spreads to survive. But the lockdown fanatics are conscious human beings. They know – or ought to – the destructiveness of the path they are carving out for Britain and other nations. They know the economic calamity and anti-social culture of fear they are foisting upon society, with all the mass unemployment, denigration of public services, and even death that this will cause. And yet they carry on.

Britain is on the brink of the worst recession since the Great Frost of 1709, according to the Bank of England. Others are predicting an utterly unprecedented 13 per cent contraction in national output. Millions will lose their jobs. And that’s just the UK. More than 100million Indians have lost their jobs as a result of the global contagion of lockdown. Many will be plunged into hunger, and worse. The International Labor Organization says 1.5 billion people around the world are at risk of losing their livelihoods. The halting of economic life and production and transportation could lead to a global ‘hunger catastrophe’, says the UN. I hope the lockdown fanatics think about that next time they post a pic of their latest loaf of sourdough.

But they don’t think about it. Not seriously. They treat it as incidental. The economic devastation being wrought in the US, the UK and elsewhere gets a few column inches here and there or is an afterthought in the nightly news. But it is rarely the story. Lockdown fanatics are so convinced of their moral rectitude, so bound up in anti-Covid zealotry, so enjoying their part in the culture of fear and the culture of condemnation against anyone who breaks lockdown, that they just zone out the terrible things that they are helping to bring about.

Or, worse, they engage in a political sleight of hand. They say job losses, rising mental-health problems, lack of money and a global downturn that will hit the poor severely are also down to Covid. ‘Covid-19 is giving rise to economic problems, too’, they occasionally say. No. We cannot allow this. It is not Covid that is destroying livelihoods and liberties – it is our societies’ historically unprecedented, ill-thought-through, contagion-like authoritarian response to Covid; it is lockdown fanaticism.

They need to take some responsibility. Covid can be excused; it’s a virus. The lockdown fanatics cannot be excused. Their extremism is hampering sensible government action, stymieing open public debate, and nurturing economic catastrophe. They must be held to account. More than that, they must be opposed. We need a return to reason, freedom and productivity.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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