RogerBW's Blog

It's Not a Lockdown 04 November 2020

So it's to be a "lockdown" again. Only not.

And yes, for a start I'm going to quibble over terms. "Lockdown" is for prisons; for another 57 days we still have a theoretical rule of law in the United Kingdom, until it is explicitly removed. Call it quarantine, or a time of isolation. To call it a "lockdown" is to frame it as "my Precious Liberties are being restricted" rather than "some people need to be prodded into doing the sensible thing because we tried asking them politely and they didn't pay attention".

But more specifically leaving schools and universities open is tantamount to murder. Protective gear is generally not being provided, and the moment schools opened again we saw a spike in cases. So we get most of the economic damage of a real isolation period, without the benefit: what are you going to do in four weeks' time that you couldn't do now? Have a testing system so that infected people can be isolated? Have contact tracing that works? You haven't managed that in the last six months, so what good will one more do?

What I would like to do would be to tell everybody to stay in one place for three weeks solid: as in "you do not leave the house unless it's a medical emergency, and then you leave it in an ambulance". (And yes, I know there are obvious problems with this: some people don't have the money for three weeks of food, some have nowhere to store it, and so on. And you'd need the police to enforce it, and the police are significantly less good at hygiene even than the general public, because they're used to thinking that rules don't apply to them. And how do you accommodate hospital staff in the hospitals? Rubbish collection, emergency plumbing, and so on, and every company will want an exemption so that its employees can go off and spread infection in the name of profit.) Also you close the borders to everyone, or rather put everyone coming in into quarantine on the same basis… rather than the thing most countries did of "no filthy foreigners but our own people coming home is just fine". At the end of this period you shouldn't have any infectious people out in the population, because even if they had it and were asymptomatic they shouldn't be infecting anyone else. But this isn't going to happen, of course.

As a scientist by training and inclination my approach to solving a large-scale problem is to work out the best thing to do, then persuade people that it's the best thing and that they should help to do it. I think that modern political culture is much more focused on building a compromise: these people want isolation, those people want open schools, so we'll have a bit of both! (Minimise root-mean-square dissatisfaction, perhaps, at least among the people who matter rather than the ones who live in safe seats or are already committed to never voting for you again.) Which means a dismal failure, but people like this have never met a problem that can't be solved by negotiation: tell them "if it doesn't do at least 60mph, the aeroplane won't fly" and they'll say "oh, well, 50 is probably fine" when the actual choice is about whether it can take off at all.

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