A Hard Day’s Social Distancing

The streets of Chichester were eerily deserted today in the early afternoon. Well, not quite deserted. There were a few pedestrians, a succession of empty buses unsuccessfully inviting to treat, a queue of three people, one of them myself, standing six feet apart outside a bank, a young woman trying to sell eggs near the old cross, a few beggars sitting in doorways and a couple of French women standing outside the bookshop that now hosts the main post office.

But it was nothing like the usual bustling scene on a weekday lunchtime. All the shops and pubs closed. Even the cathedral was closed, giving the lie to a publicly displayed notice from the dean to the effect that, though services were suspended, the cathedral remained open for private prayer and reflection. That was before Big Brother Boris decreed otherwise in the name of the “War on Disease”.

Though the entire scene looked remarkably law-abiding and peaceful, there was paradoxically a more obvious police presence in the form of a prowl car slowly driving past. I say paradoxically because when there are many people and much noise and consequently one would think a greater likelihood of crime and disorder, one rarely sees a police officer. But here they were, in broad daylight, having been given their orders to prioritize the “War on Disease”, ready to break up any three who may have gathered together, or accost a suspect pedestrian to enquire “Is your journey really necessary?” or “Couldn’t you work from home?” I thought of Cromwell’s soldiers and their breaking up of unlawful Christmas celebrations.

This development has a rather surreal feel to it. As if one has somehow walked into one of Kafka’s novels, or a science fiction film such as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

How long it will take for sanity to reassert itself is anyone’s guess. But it seems certain that when or if the “War on Disease” is ever declared to be over, just as in the case of the “War on Terror”, the most serious casualties, apart from the truth, will have been our civil liberty and human rights.

There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable, as the government did early in March, gives the false appearance of its causing an increasing number of deaths. It appears to be far more of a killer than flu, which is not notifiable, simply because of the way deaths are recorded. This, of course, explains why such an overwhelming number of Covid-19 deaths, here and abroad, involve so-called underlying conditions, in fact serious, often fatal, diseases. Remember this whenever you hear official figures of Covid-19 deaths. We risk being persuaded that we have averted something that was never going to be as severe as we feared. It was never going to be as bad as the merchants of doom claimed. The hysterical measures taken may well not have done any good. Yet our freedom is gone and our economy damaged.

The great majority of those who have died with Covid-19 (I will not say from) were dying in any case from one or more pre-existing serious health conditions. This whole scare has been got up to divert attention from the unpreparedness of the NHS, because the government wanted to dodge the bullet of blame for it. The great majority of healthy people who contract Covid-19 recover from it within a couple of weeks just as they would from a bout of the flu.

Death is something that people naturally fear but equally something with which people should come to terms, because ultimately it is inescapable. It comes to us all and is only a matter of when and how, not of if. So, especially if you are making policy for a nation, it is profoundly wrong to operate on the basis of avoiding deaths at any cost. Nor indeed do our politicians operate on that basis, when they feel confident they can avoid blame for such deaths.

This is more than the overmedicalization of society. A slow hand-clap for Big Brother Boris and his health fascism gone mad. The sound of one hand clapping for China and its atrocious mistreatment of animals, which has caused not only the current pandemic but numerous others historically, notably the Black Death in the fourteenth century.

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