Covid-19 in the U.K. Decoding the Anti-lockdown Argument
Author: Paul Dodenhoff - Contact: Contact Details
Published: 2021/10/26 - Updated: 2023/09/14
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Opinion Piece / Editorial
On This Page: Summary - Main Article - About/Author
Synopsis: Paul Dodenhoff examines the lack of reasoning regarding the Covid-19 anti-lockdown stance currently in Britain. When Covid-19 first raised it's ugly head, Britain's government were arguably slow in reacting to the unfolding global crisis. Preferring to delay action until the virus had apparently circulated uncontrollably around the UK. Despite being the early days of Covid, medics had already highlighted the social groups likely at risk from dying from it. Therefore, there was enough data around to warn the British government of who was most likely to get very sick from this illness.
When Covid-19 first raised it's ugly head, Britain's government were arguably slow in reacting to the unfolding global crisis. Preferring to delay action until the virus had apparently circulated uncontrollably around the UK and with hospitalisations going through the roof. Now, was this slowness to act simply the consequence of sheer incompetence or was government simply preparing to ride out the storm in order to keep the economy open, knowing full well there would be many deaths as a result? Despite being the early days of Covid, medics had already highlighted the social groups likely at risk from dying from it. Therefore, there was enough data around to warn the British government of who was most likely to get very sick from this illness. Yet, it sat on it's hands, talked publicly about herd immunity and then seemingly panicked when UK scientists began predicting that such a course of (in)action would lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths - if not millions. As a minimum, our hospitals would have been completely flooded, not a great look for a so-called modern and civilised society. But all this is history and there is certainly enough evidence around to argue that the British Government was grossly incompetent, out of it's depth over Covid or that it simply didn't care.
Who Gets the Blame?
Whatever line you take, the Government doesn't actually come out of it smelling of roses, something highlighted by the conclusions drawn by a recent Parliamentary inquiry into the crisis. A report that argued that locking down just one week sooner would have saved thousands of lives. The only positives that can be taken out of it are that government did react eventually and that the UK was at the forefront of vaccine development. But while we can point the finger and argue how inept or evil government may have originally been, Britain's citizens also have to share some of the blame for the needless deaths of their fellow Brits. And not just for electing a bunch of heartless morons into power in the first place but for their reaction to the crisis. Despite the well meaning but inane practice of bashing pots & pans in support of NHS and key workers, and in spite of the adherence to lockdowns and restrictions by many. There has undoubtedly been a constant battle with others to wear the face masks, to enact social distancing, to wash their hands on a regular basis and to adhere to the emergency rules and regulations implemented. Not all Brits accepted lockdowns and restrictions willingly but actively found ways to defy them. Some even posing as NHS workers just to get access to priority supermarket shopping hours. And arguably, it was this element of extremely selfish and self-interested people who were largely responsible for spreading much of the virus around.
By March 2020. research had already indicated that Covid was likely to be passed on in clusters rather than on an individual to individual basis. Multiple studies from the beginning suggested that as few as 10 to 20 percent of infected people may have been responsible for as much as 80 to 90 percent transmission of the virus. Of course, that doesn't mean that individuals can't pass this virus onto another, but what it did mean is that the virus is passed on primarily through what is called super-spreading events. In study after study, super-spreading clusters of Covid-19 occurred around the world, particularly in poorly ventilated indoor environments and when there is loud talking or singing without face masks. Of course, for super-spreading events to occur, multiple things have to be happening at the same time. But while many of us indeed obeyed the instructions not to mix with other households, some Brits happily gathered in each others homes, some partied in large numbers, while others held big social gatherings such as weddings, where hundreds of guests turned up. To highlight the extent of the problem, in September 2020, Manchester police were called to at least 400 regulation busting events in just one weekend.
During 2020, polls further suggested that a quarter of Brits regularly broke lockdown rules. A third feeling the rules far too strict, while a quarter thought that such restrictions were not necessary at all. And it is suggested that as many as 60 percent of Brits had at least been inside someone's house at some point during lockdown - for whatever reason that may be. Particularly worrying as households often have the highest transmission rates among indoor settings compared to other social settings, such as those for travel, healthcare and work. Certainly, there is some validity in the claim that some were breaking the rules primarily for mental health reasons or to help others in some way. But that doesn't completely explain the wider aversion to hand washing, face mask wearing and social distancing that we have seen.
Why Bother with Restrictions?
Before face mask wearing in the UK was made mandatory only 38% of Brits were using them, according to YouGov polls. Compared at the time to the high 80%'s in the rest of Europe and the 90%'s witnessed in countries such as Singapore. And now that mandatory face mask wearing and social distancing in the UK has been removed, you see little of it on crowded UK streets, crowded buses or trains. Something backed up by recent polls, despite Government recommendations that you should carry on with these behaviours through personal choice
Of course, this translates into even more people coming down with Covid-19, with over a thousand hospitalisations a day in England & Wales when I last looked at the statistics. Although, I believe that figure as come down a little since. But medics have clearly warned that hospitalisations may be through the roof this winter if some kind of restrictions are not re-implemented by government. So what is wrong with us Brits? Clearly, some believe (both inside and outside of government) that Covid-19 is not something that we should be wary of nor should we be letting it disrupt our lifestyles. Despite global statistics of more than 4.5 million deaths, we are constantly told that Covid is simply something that we will have to learn to live with. Or more accurately, it is something that other people will have to die of, in order for others to carry on doing what they want to do without even the minimal of restrictions or changes to their behaviour.
If you look at the psychology behind the non-compliance with face mask wearing and social distancing, this is enlightening. With the research suggesting that some people indeed believe that they have the freedom to behave how they wish, even if that behaviour is detrimental to the health of others. Experiencing highly negative emotions when this freedom is perceived to be under threat. Something that makes sense of the anger we often see in protests over lockdowns, restrictions, vaccines and social distancing. Arguably, this is also linked to the perceived personal risk of catching Covid-19 and becoming very ill from it. While some people will have a tendency towards risky behaviours regardless of any possible consequences, others may still be seeing Covid-19 as a minor problem - akin to catching 'the flu'. But where 'the flu' is merely another word for something like a cold or a bout of the sniffles.
Don't Worry it's Only the Flu
It is indeed interesting when you hear people arguing that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu, yet in the same breath often justifying an anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine approach because the flu also kills people. Or more accurately, some people. Sure, the flu kills people but falsely equating the flu and Covid has been a key feature of the pandemic from the very start and not just in the UK. In the absence of any protections Covid is far more contagious than the flu, thereby hospitalising more people. Which in turn puts pressure on health care systems. Another key feature is the persistent notion that only people vulnerable to bugs, germs and viruses (such as those who are elderly or have underlying health conditions) can get really sick and die from them. The rest of us who are young and/or healthy don't have to worry about either the flu nor Covid because we can fight these things off. We certainly don't need to wear the face masks, don't have to socially distance and certainly don't have to abide by mandatory or advisory rules. All of which is overkill by the loony, leftist-leaning scientists who bully and cajole their governments into action. The fact that we are mandated or advised to do these things primarily to protect the NHS, seems to have completely by-passed some. It is therefore all about 'me'. I want to do this, I don't want to do that and regardless of the consequences of that action or inaction for others. For some, the virus should indeed be allowed to circulate uncontrollably throughout the population until enough people have gained natural immunity from it.
However, despite the typical hype often pushed forward concerning 'herd immunity' this can only ever be realistically achieved via an immunisation programme - and that means a high take up of vaccines is usually needed. Not just for adults but for children too. Arguably, we might not have needed those vaccines in the first place if the adults had been more careful with their behaviours and if the UK Government had acted when told to by the science. Moving on, it now seems incredibly short-sighted as a group not to take even the minimum of precautions. Surely, most of us have family and friends, yet many are still seemingly willing to put our loved at risk from a refusal to even take the most simple and basic of preventive measures. I attended a sporting event recently and followed the recommended safety measures issued by both government and the event organisers. I was in the minority, a very tiny minority. Nobody wore a face mask indoors or outside in crowded spaces. Few people kept their distance. A trip to the loo also highlighted how many people still don't wash their hands afterwards. Seriously, after all we have been through over the past 18 months?
I've only ever seen US studies on this admittedly strange topic but the suggestion is that at least a third of American's don't wash their hands after visiting a public toilet. The reasons why are argued to be down to the inclination that some prefer immediate rewards and returns to the rewards and returns that may come later on in the future. Together with an unrealistic and perhaps delusional optimism that everything will be OK regardless. Something we can perhaps translate in this context, as some people indeed perceiving hand washing during Covid times as still being unnecessary, arguably taking time away from doing something more enjoyable. Mixed together with a deep-rooted belief or assumption that nothing bad will come of it anyway.
Certainly, as far as Covid-19 is concerned, there has been a consistent pattern of delusional optimism displayed not only by government but by the general public too, despite the science and the evidence that Covid is something we indeed need to take seriously. Which perhaps helps to make sense of the anti-lockdown/anti-vaccine lobby that we see both in the UK and the US. Especially if you factor in the persistent notion associated with these groups that Covid will only cause a problem if you are elderly or have an underlying heath condition. Restrictions, lockdowns, face masks, social distancing and the like are therefore not only an infringement of our basic human rights, but are completely unnecessary for most of us. In short, a psychological phenomenon in which some people may overestimate the likelihood of positive events occurring, while completely underestimating the likelihood of negative ones. But as many of us already know, Covid doesn't just kill the elderly, sick and disabled people. It is by no means certain that even if you are young, perfectly fit with no underlying health conditions, that you can't become very ill from Covid-19 nor die from it. Of course, that is a minority of cases, but it still happens. Young people also complain of suffering from the longer-term effects of the illness, such as extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, as well as problems with memory or concentration. So, I don't think we should simply think this is a problem that only effects the elderly and the vulnerable.
Distrust of Experts - the Great Reset
In addition, there is not just an ignorance surrounding the science but also an unfettered contempt towards those experts and public figures who are perceived to be stopping our fun because of Covid (even if it is for public health reasons). Follow social media and those who do support some level of restrictions or vaccines are readily attacked for being 'brainwashed', 'gullible' and even castigated for being 'Nazi's'. As a minimum, much of which could be described simply as bullying tactics. But we also need to understand that such opposition isn't really a new phenomena. Despite recent objections towards Covid restrictions and vaccines on the principles of freedom or freedom of choice, opposition to vaccines actually started way back in the early 1800s, when the smallpox vaccine began being used in large numbers. Listen to the anti-vaxxers today and the main gripes are that the risks of getting vaccinated far outweigh the benefits. That these vaccines are untried and untested technology, that they can have serious side effects and that they can even kill. Fears that are usually medically unfounded but exactly the same arguments and fears that were around in the 1800's. Of course, it is true that Covid vaccines are not 100% safe, but then again, many medicines and vaccines have potentially harmful side-effects. Nothing is 100% safe. Interestingly, according to research, vaccine hesitancy often correlates with a belief in conspiracy theories, not just a low fear of Covid. One popular conspiracy theory is that scientists have a vested professional interest and sometimes a commercial interest in their work. Therefore, they are personally gaining from wanting to restrict people's freedoms and it is amazing how many scientists across the globe have received death threats because of their Covid research or stance. Arguably, from people who not only have a low fear of Covid but with some also believing it to be an hoax or even something more sinister.
To what end is never really explained fully. However, there is a on-line belief that clearly suggests all of this is leading to a 'great reset', dark tales about the take-over by an authoritarian socialist world government run by powerful capitalists and politicians. A (not-so) secret cabal, launched at a Davos summit in June 2020 by the Prince of Wales (head of the annual Davos summit) calling for the pandemic to be seen as a chance to 'reset' the global economy. What this initiative was designed to achieve is debatable but amongst it's suggestions was that the global pandemic gave the world world a chance to 'reset' it, creating a much healthier, more equal and much more prosperous future. Not simply talking about taxing wealth but also about ending fossil fuel subsidies. Arguably, that is why some people have indeed taken umbrage at what they see as a insidious, socialist-leftist attack on their personal freedoms to go shopping, to go to a pub/bar or to attend sporting events.
So, what can we conclude? Arguably, there is a sizeable group within the UK who don't believe that Covid is anything to worry about and chiefly because it is only the vulnerable who are mainly effected by it. That optimism is completely delusional if we take any notice of the science and the evidence. But if you indeed believe that the science on Covid is promoted simply by people with a self-interest or a vested commercial interest, then that optimism will no doubt become emboldened. Not just a low fear of Covid but with some also believing that there is a world-wide conspiracy being played out here - but to what end is never coherently explained. However, there are a number of people who do seriously believe that a 'socialist' world run by powerful capitalists and politicians is being secretly created - using Covid as the excuse to implement it. With apparently few capable of seeing the irony and contradiction in the suggestion that a group of Billionaire capitalists are behind a world-wide socialist revolution, lead by the monarchist, Prince Charles.
Nonetheless, the mere suggestion of taxes upon the rich, even if proposed by immensely wealthy people themselves, together with what are considered to be relatively minor environmental initiatives, have certainly rattled Conservatives and media outlets both in the US and the UK. Particularly, if proposed by a group of unelected individuals who seemingly have the power to lobby for change that could potentially transform the world, it's economy and it's employment opportunities. Which indeed raises legitimate issues over democracy itself. However, the argument that Covid restrictions are unnecessary and/or simply a tool for a socialist revolutionary army, goes much deeper than Conservatism, taxes and a the fear over the potential loss of freedoms. If it is only the vulnerable who are deemed actually at risk from the virus, there also seems to be very little consideration given and very little sympathy shown towards those who are deemed to be 'vulnerable' to catching it and dying from it. Bearing in mind that many will also have friends and family who may indeed fall into that box.
With many in the UK disregarding original lockdown rules and with fewer and fewer people seemingly interested in taking even the most basic of precautions such as wearing face masks, social distancing and hand washing, what does that actually tell us about people's attitudes towards 'the vulnerable'. Keeping in mind that the vulnerable consist of elderly people, disabled people and those suffering from cancer or other illnesses? That is a lot of people across all sections of society. Of course, most people will be aware that the majority of those dying from Covid will indeed be those considered vulnerable to the virus. But speak to people and those who are against restrictions and face masks, don't appear to think that they actually have any role to play in preventing those deaths. The vulnerable can seemingly be protected in other ways, such as self-isolating or by wearing a face mask themselves, if they want to. That is their prerogative.
For the rest of us, lockdowns and restrictions are perceived not only as being against personal freedoms and overkill towards a simple flu-like illness, but that they don't actually work. It can easily be proven by looking at the data that lockdowns and other restrictions do work to limit the spread of Covid and when they are lifted, infection rates start to rocket. Arguably, what most people miss or completely dismiss is not just the evidence but the fact that governments are not actually locking down specifically to prevent the deaths of vulnerable people, but to prevent the virus spreading to the point where their health care systems collapse under the strain. Despite that, many seem to consider that such restrictions are aimed solely at preventing the deaths of vulnerable people - something they clearly have a problem with. The same can be said about face mask wearing or other preventive measures. These only work if the majority do it, thereby protecting each other and the NHS in the process. One person wearing a face mask on their own may prevent something being passed on to somebody else, but they may not be protecting themselves. You may still get Covid even if you are taking the most stringent of personal measures, that is the nature of the beast. But by telling someone that they can wear a mask if they want to or because they are particularly at risk from the virus, but I'm not going to it myself, doesn't actually solve the problem nor contain the spread of the virus. That only works if most of us do it.
In short, what I'm saying is that the deaths of vulnerable people may not even matter or even register with some. Unless it happens to be their own, of course. At best, deaths from Covid may be very sad but life has to go on, as it does during the flu season. Restrictions should therefore not be in place to protect people from the virus if it actually prevents me from enjoying myself or from going shopping. But if we consider the research on lockdowns and restrictions, it highlights that lockdowns and other restrictions actually hit vulnerable people much harder than other social groups anyway. Rather than Covid helping to level out inequalities existing within society, it was the people who were already marginalised before Covid who are disproportionately impacted by it - including by lockdowns and restrictions. If anybody thinks that vulnerable people were somehow being unfairly singled out for protection by government, that suggestion is certainly wide of the mark.
Of course, death rates amongst vulnerable groups were and still are high. An analysis by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year showed that six in 10 Covid deaths were of people with a disability. But should the death rate among people with learning disabilities really be six times higher than for the general population, as it was in the UK during the first wave of the crisis? Younger people with learning disabilities aged 18 to 34 are actually 30 times more likely to die of Covid than others of the same age. But even that doesn't tell the full story. In March 2020, emergency guidance to help doctors decide who should get critical care during the crisis had to urgently re-written over fears it would mean disabled people being denied treatment. In February this year, it emerged that people with learning disabilities had been given 'do-not- resuscitate' orders during a second wave of the pandemic. This was in spite of widespread condemnation of the practice early on the pandemic and an investigation over it.
So, clearly we have some kind of societal problem with attitudes towards anybody considered to be elderly, sick or disabled in some way. Not just to the point where we don't actually care if our behaviours impact upon those groups but where those attitudes also permeate into the institutions that are supposed to help us all. Were treatments can be denied to disabled people in favour of treating the able-bodied and those considered intellectually capable first, even if that is actually a discriminatory act prohibited by law. And quite a contradictory social attitude to have given that many people will indeed put themselves second to a vulnerable person in times of need, if the case warrants it. But not apparently during a global health crisis when there are lockdowns, restrictions and a shortage of ventilators or other medical equipment. Of course, the 'clinical judgement' card is being played out amongst all of this, where resources are being rationed in what is deemed to be the most logical way for a society in crisis. But is it really based upon logic or is it simply based upon bias?
When I've spoken about discrimination and prejudice in the past, I've suggested that any bias towards elderly people or disabled people is actually tied into social notions of work ethic and productiveness. Elderly people may therefore be perceived to be long past their economic usefulness and arguably, disabled people have never been perceived to have had one in the first place. So, who really cares if these people die? They are an economic burden at the best of times and a health-care burden in the worse of times. A harsh analysis perhaps, but what other explanation can there be for people with learning disabilities being designated as far too 'frail' to be given Covid treatment, when the only thing wrong with them is that they happen to have a learning disability?
Of course, all of this could be caused by panic and/or stupidity and very little else. After all, most Brits will have never experienced a global pandemic and may have little knowledge nor understanding of what that really means. Pandemics usually happen to other countries not the UK. The UK was also badly prepared for any type of pandemic, due to a lack of foresight, a lack of resources and cut backs to the NHS that created a lack of capacity to deal with one. So, no wonder panic quickly set in when the poo hit the fan. But if this virus had been something like Ebola, none of us would arguably be here to tell the tale. Something like Ebola would have decimated both the US and the UK simply because of their slowness or unwillingness to react and contain the problem.
To be fair, it has to be said that the UK was in the end at the heart of vaccine development, which indeed helps protect vulnerable groups from the virus. But vaccine development also protects the NHS from collapse and makes firm economic sense if it helps the country to get back quicker to some kind of 'normality' - without lockdowns and restrictions. And since the roll-out of the vaccine and the wide up-take of it, all restrictions in the UK have been subsequently removed, despite rocketing rates of infection. Infection rates that still impact vulnerable groups much more than anybody else, vaccinated or not.
But can the 'panic' explanation really explain why some people don't just distrust the science but seemingly fail to understand it? For example, I've heard critics of Covid vaccines coming out against these vaccines simply because they have heard that they contain 'spike' proteins. Not considering at any point the actual science behind these vaccines nor the structure of the virus itself, where a spike protein is just the largest of four major structural proteins found in all Coronaviruses. In short, modified spike proteins in Covid vaccines are apparently putting the fear of God into some people, yet spike proteins on the actual virus itself doesn't. Not surprisingly if they can't actually understand any of the science surrounding Covid. Some may indeed be thinking that their own or somebody else's armchair theories and analyses make far greater sense than the science and just because they are arguably, far less complex to understand. Even if they are completely wrong.
But not getting vaccinated against any potentially dangerous disease when an vaccine already exists, sounds kind of stupid to me. Especially when we consider that vaccine hesitancy is not such a new thing, neither are the reasons. On the other hand, someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer would argue that rather than stupidity, with stupidity normally defined as an intellectual deficiency, it is actually a deficiency in morality that we witness. So, if we do believe elderly people or disabled people to be second or even third class citizens in society and simply because they are economically a burden on us all and on economic productiveness, then that surely puts us firmly in the dodgy morality camp rather than the purely stupid one. Even clever people seem to struggle with the concept of lockdowns, restrictions and vaccines. And as we have seen above, some NHS medics had been told at one point to ration out Covid treatment, something that illegally discriminated against both elderly people and disabled people. Hardly a moral stance. A stance that also worried medics, to the point where some felt that they were being hung out to dry, as far as legal matters were concerned.
But if we are indeed dealing with stupidity and stupid people instead of morality, perhaps I should end this with reference to the Italian economist Carlo Cipolla, who devised five basic laws of human stupidity:
- Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
- The probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
- A stupid person is one who causes losses to another person or a group of people while they gain nothing or may even suffer losses.
- Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that in any time and place and circumstance dealing and/or hanging out with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
- Stupid people are the most dangerous type of people.
Sounds like the UK at the moment and the government's handling of Covid, as well as many of the actions or inactions of my fellow citizens. But like Bonhoeffer before him, Cipolla also recognised that stupidity may be independent of intellect or educational status. So, just because somebody is bright that doesn't necessarily mean they are not also stupid. Sounds counter intuitive and contradictory, but a lack of morality would arguably help splice these two concepts together. If somebody doesn't seem to 'understand' the Covid science, it may not simply be a case of a lack of intellect, just that they don't want to understand the science nor accept the consequences of acknowledging that the science is accurate. Your position on lockdowns, restrictions and vaccines becomes untenable if you actually admit that you have no real argument for them. You simply want to carry on doing what you want to do, Covid or no Covid, regardless of the consequences to other people. Other people therefore do not actually matter to you, it is all about 'me' and what I want or what I need. Constant denial being the key to keeping this self-centred utopia of socialising, enjoyment and shopping in place without even the slightest of interruption. Perhaps some would even disintegrate without having those things to occupy their minds - nor to maintain their self-identity? However, I will let the reader muse on that one for themselves.
Now go wash your hands.
British born Paul Dodenhoff, is a regular contributor of UK disability related news and content. Paul has always taken an interest in disability issues, and writes for Disabled-World trying to highlight issues that don't always get a great deal of attention from Britain's popular media. Paul Dodenhoff completed a part-time Open University Bachelor of Science degree in Social Problems, Health and Social Welfare; graduating at the Guild Hall, Preston, United Kingdom. He also gained a part-time Master of Arts degree in Research Methodology in 2003 with the Open University; graduating at the UNESCO headquarters, Paris.
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