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All in peril – the rule of law, education and religion


A RENOWNED biologist, the late Peter Medawar, once described a virus as ‘bad news wrapped up in protein’. That metaphor can be inverted to describe our current predicament in the United Kingdom. We are currently undergoing a period of extremely bad news wrapped up in a virus.

The Covid-19 situation is being used as a battering ram to smash down the barriers to personal freedom and to topple the pillars of a civilised society. This is the more remarkable as the current measures are based on such controversial and disputed scientific evidence (discussed  on TCW herehere, and here, among others). The predicted death rates appear at the moment to be lower than for other relatively recent flu epidemics and – with some tragic exceptions – the outcome of becoming infected with Covid-19 appears to be either quite mild or asymptomatic.

Nobody wants to underestimate the severity of Covid-19. No one would object to all reasonable measures being taken. But at what cost do we allegedly protect ourselves against this virus? ‘Whatever it takes’, according to both the Prime Minister and the new leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, who on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show said he would back further lockdown measures if they were necessary – presumably even banning exercise outside the home as threatened by Matt Hancock earlier in the programme. 

Sir Keir considered neither the most obviously damaging effect to our economy (the businesses whose taxes we will rely on to fund the huge debt build up) nor the subsequent effects on the lives of people whose earnings are reduced or whose places of employment will not exist post-lockdown. Things may never be the same again. What did this former human rights lawyer think that would include? Andrew Marr didn’t ask.

Yet there are other far more worrying aspects to the lockdown than even the economy, and these are the threats to the fundamental aspects of our society: the rule of law, education and religion, the traditional targets of the cultural Marxists. 

The rule of law has been tangibly undermined: the courts are closed and some criminals (considered low-risk or near the end of their sentence) are to be released back into society. Why? While no one wants prison officers or prisoners to get infected or die, is this the best way to protect them or us? Surely the isolation of a prison and the restricted access of the general public would be  ideal for containing the spread of a pandemic if prison officers were properly equipped with protective wear and made a priority for testing. Release will hardly help the maintenance of public order or safety.

 The figures for recidivism of former prison inmates are not encouraging and though my chances of being beaten up or murdered are very small the chances of my property being robbed by a petty criminal or having my mobile phone ripped out of my hand on the streets (having experienced both) are significant and likely to increase in the months ahead. 

The closure of courts is likewise both illogical and wrong, since there is no absolute requirement for the public to be present – judges already have the power to clear courts – and surely jury members could easily be positioned to accommodate social distancing.

Despite the efforts of school, college and university teachers to maintain lessons under lockdown, and the novelty for many of online learning, we are deluding ourselves if we think that the present situation is satisfactory, or that the education system will recover quickly. Everything is being done by universities and sixth-form colleges to mitigate the effects on student assessment, but the fact remains that planned examinations will not be held and there will always be a shadow of doubt over the veracity of qualifications gained at this time. The clinical practice experience of nursing students is being curtailed. The Nursing and Midwifery Council is doing much to ensure that the public is safe, but some educational corners may continue to be cut, even after the current situation is resolved. It is possible that crowded lecture theatres and classrooms are not conducive to containing the virus but, if the virus is as rife as it already seems to be with mild or no symptoms, it is hard to see why most educational establishments could not be brought back to-near normal functioning after Easter.

The final assault on our freedom is the closure of churches while those alternative places of worship, the supermarkets, remain open despite the stringent measures that church leaders enacted in the early days of the outbreak. 

The Roman Catholic Church removed fonts of holy water, suspended communion from a communal grail and stopped – at last – the ‘sign of peace’ near the end of Mass. I am a regular churchgoer. Believe me, given the emptiness of the pews, social distancing would not be a problem.

At the time of writing we do not know how many more desperate measures may be introduced as each last one fails, in a further descent into the science-led irrationality Kathy Gyngell predicted or how long the present situation will last. We do not know how long the general public will tolerate being restricted and what the government will do if they take to the streets. The police are already busy closing parks, to widespread dismay. 

At some point applauding the NHS may turn to frustration that our advanced health system appears unable to cope and that other countries – Sweden being the prime example – seem to be managing just fine without a lockdown. But the biggest unknowns are the criteria that the experts will use to judge when it is time to allow us to return to normal life.

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Roger Watson
Roger Watson
Roger Watson is a Professor of Nursing.

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