COVID-19 cases are on the increase again around the world and here in the UK. At the end of last week, new restrictions were introduced for the whole of England limiting the number of people who could socialised together to 6. Similar rules with some variations were introduced in Scotland. Meanwhile, from tomorrow we will effectively be returning to a form of local lockdown in Sandwell and Birmingham. This will mean that seeing other people in their homes or gardens will once again be illegal.
There is a level of frustration and confusion at the moment. Some people have noted that cases are nowhere near their peak and the death rate is also running at a low level. They are demanding to know why any restrictions at all are still in place. They want to get back to normal. Others feel extremely worried by the continued presence of COVID-19 in the community and argue that with case numbers being high again, we should be quickly returning to stricter measures. Indeed, many in that category will feel that the measures in place previously should not have been lifted and perhaps did not go far enough.
Are we Safe Yet?
So how do we navigate this frustration and confusion? Well, first of all some facts. Our local Public Health Director in Sandwell has helpfully shared the following visuals.
What this means, is that here in Smethwick there have been between 20-30 cases in the last week. That means you are probably talking about no more than 7 or 8 in a local council ward such as Abbey or Bristnall. Indeed, that assumes the cases are spread uniformly when in fact recent evidence has suggested clusters and concentration of cases in specific areas. At about 0.05% of the local population in an area where cases are considered at the high end, we are in fact seeing less cases (which will include lots of people with only mild symptoms) than the overall mortality rate. This should give us a feel for the level of risk that there currently is of catching the illness and being seriously ill, hospitalised or dying from it.
Furthermore, there are some unknowns. At the moment, it does seem that the number of cases are increasing but primarily among younger and healthy generations. At the same time serious incidents leading to hospitalisation and death do not seem to be seeing a spike. It could be that it is simply too early to tell and that we will see a rise in deaths within the next few weeks. It is also possible that if we are experiencing a second wave that there will not be the same life threatening consequences. This could be because protective measures mean that those who are catching the virus are not catching such a lethal dose.
Those facts should help us not to become overwhelmed with fear. There is a lot we can do, providing we stick within the guidelines. It is possible to attend church, visit the shops and eat out without too much risk providing guidance about face masks and social distancing are followed.
However, this should not lead to complacency. My response to people who are arguing that measures can be lifted now because the death rate for COVID-19 is lower than the death rate fro influenza is that they may have misunderstood where we are in the process. Yes cases have fallen massively since the peak but they have fallen, to the best of our knowledge, because of the measures that have been taken. Suddenly cancelling all controls seems to me a bit like taking your seatbelt off whilst speeding on the basis that you haven’t been injured so far in the journey. It is exactly because you wore the seatbelt that you did not get injured.
Furthermore, whilst the current number of incidents may be low, the Government and Health service have to look at trends as well as snapshot figures. They will be concerned about where we might be in a few weeks time without intervention. Now of course there are risks with trends and forecasting. Things do not always go as expected. However, this is the best information we have at the moment. Until there is a vaccine or substantiated evidence that risk has passed through other means such as form of herd immunity or the virus burning itself out, we have to recognise that this is what life is going to be like for the immediate future. Whilst we do not need to be paralysed by fear, we should not treat COVID-19 lightly, it brings a substantial and serious risk to health.
Once again, what it means is that yes, it is okay to go to work, school, church, the shops, the pub but that is completely dependent on us observing the measures in place concerning PPE and social distancing.
This now brings us to the other part of my post.
Should Christians break unreasonable laws?
Increasingly I am hearing Christians argue that we should not comply with the current rules. The reasons for this are
- A belief that rules about social distancing, not singing and wearing face-masks are unreasonable. This has not been helped by some of the confusion and inconsistency we have seen
- That the rules will become part of a longer term trend to undermine individual freedom as well as Christian faith.
Well, I must admit, I have also been baffled by some of the rules and guidance. I also will put my hand up as one of those who isn’t completely convinced that lockdowns are the best response. My view remains that if borders had been controlled, care homes protected, NHS capacity increased and contact tracing properly implemented then we would not need many of the draconian measures we have seen. However, I am also of the opinion that measures have tended to become more draconian because unfortunately a lot of people simply haven’t complied with the lower level guidance and rules.
However, first of all, I don’t seen any serious evidence of a conspiracy against freedom or Christianity. This is not to say that we have a completely freedom loving, gospel affirming Government and culture. We know that is not the case. However, first of all Christians have not been singled out for unfair treatment. This is not persecution. Secondly, I don’t see a conspiracy against freedom. In terms of temperament and political philosophy, our current government is not one likely to be seeking to impose ever more authoritarian measures. Rather, they appear to have been compelled reluctantly into imposing stricter measures in the face of a time-limited crisis.
I think that we do need better political and judicial systems to ensure decision makers are held accountable and that any curtailing of freedom is limited and genuinely temporary. However, I would argue that people should use the democratic process to bring that about.
The justification for civil disobedience by Christians is usually given as Acts 5:29 where Peter says that we should obey God rather than man. However, that Bible passage is dealing specifically with attempts to curtail the apostle’s freedom to share the Gospel. I should obey God rather than man when man tells me to disobey God and stop proclaiming the good news. This is not a catch all permitting me to pick and choose which laws I like.
In fact, the early church were told to obey the law even when it seemed unfair or unreasonable. They did not have democratic processes and their rulers were often despots. Yet they were called to submit as a witness and because God could even use ungodly governments for their good.
In our present situation, we may consider our government to be wrong and/or inconsistent in its decision making. However, it seems clear that despite the limits both of fallenness and finiteness that they are doing their best in a very difficult situation.
In summary, don’t be paralysed with fear about the pandemic, at the same time don’t be complacent or reckless. Instead be responsible and wise. Don’t be afraid to challenge where you do disagree but do show a faithful witness by keeping the rules. Do keep looking forward in hope and trusting in Christ.
 Romans 13:1-5. 1 Peter 2:13-17