It's time to now break the chains of Britain's national lockdown
THE playwright George Bernard Shaw famously asked a beautiful actress if she would sleep with him for £1million.
She said she would consider it and he asked in that case if she would do it for £1.
When she exclaimed: “Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?” he responded: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
Nearly a year on from the first lockdown, it is time for the British people to consider a similar question.
When we were asked last March if we would stay at home for three weeks to save the NHS and tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of lives, our answer was a resounding “Yes!”
After three lockdowns and a jumble of tiers and restrictions that have changed more than 60 times, the balance of the argument has shifted.
Crucially, with the immense success of vaccinating all the people most likely to be vulnerable to Covid, the risk of death will have been reduced by 90 per cent.
Like the actress, we should make a new assessment of costs and benefits.
This should start with the knowledge that protracted or repeated lockdowns kill people as surely as the virus.
The cancers that have gone undiagnosed, the two million screening appointments that have been missed, the people whose despair drives them to suicide.
The consequences of what we have done will be with us for years, decades, to come — most especially for the children whose mental health has suffered so much.
We have seen a threefold increase in referrals for eating disorders; the NSPCC reports a 43 per cent increase in child abuse; and young people are more likely to say they are lonely than their parents.
Loneliness and isolation for young and old alike can have devastating long-term consequences.
All this is before we add the sharpest economic downturn in history into the mix.
More than 800,000 jobs already lost and hundreds of thousands more that will go when furlough ends.
Loss of prospects, loss of hope, people unable to pay the mortgage. All of this will take a heavy toll.
A year ago, much less was known about Covid. Now we have more weapons in our armoury — better treatments as well as vaccines.
We know, too, that the initial pandemic is set to give way to an endemic seasonal virus likely to be more dangerous than “flu” for at least a few years to come (a century ago, Spanish “flu” took about a decade to evolve to be no more dangerous than normal seasonal bugs).
We need, therefore, to plan for how we live with Covid but do so as safely as we can.
The alternative of locking the nation up for four months every year would be madness.
Luckily, we have some tried and tested measures for controlling the virus while we live our lives.
Schools, pubs and airlines have all developed models of Covid-secure operation, and we should remember that a combination of hand hygiene and distancing had already started to bring down infections before the first or the third lockdowns.
Those who advocate never-ending house arrest for everyone like to pretend that the alternative is to do nothing.
The real alternative, especially in a vaccinated country, is for the Government to give back control over people’s lives while helping us to take responsibility for ourselves.
After a year of controlling the most intimate and personal aspects of life, it will be difficult for the Government to give up the powers it has taken.
The decision to impose a prison sentence of up to ten years for filling in a form incorrectly shows how casual some ministers have become about arbitrary rules and disproportionate sentences.
We must all remind ourselves that the Government was allowed to do these things as an exception, not a rule.
In this country, the Government is there to serve the people, not to tell us what to do.
Let’s return as rapidly as possible to a world where we all take responsibility for our own safety and that of those around us.
Fortunately, when Boris sets out a “roadmap” to freedom in the House of Commons on February 22, it will be against a very positive backdrop.
The vaccination programme will be powering into the over-60s, rates of infection will have been falling rapidly for several weeks and, as the days lengthen, the usual seasonal impact should drive the virus down still further.
We are already seeing a rapid fall in hospital admissions and there are signs that death rates might be falling at a faster rate still.
There is every reason to be positive. Children (and parents!), who have been crawling up the walls as their education and social development go backwards, will see schools reopen on March 8.
The roadmap must also give certainty to businesses about how and when they can reopen.
Pubs and restaurants will need to order food and drinks, shops will need to get staff back from furlough.
Airlines and travel operators will need up to three months to service grounded jets and retrain pilots who have spent months delivering pizza.
Boris is at his best when he is boldest.
As spring bursts out, the British people must be given back hope and optimism.
We must take back control!
- Sir Graham Brady has been Conservative MP for Altincham and Sale West since 1997 and is chairman of the 1922 backbench committee.
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