Okay, I admit it, I don’t get the point of another national lockdown, even as a short sharp shock via a circuit break. People will remember that we went into the first lockdown with the hope that it would be exactly that, a short sharp shock over 3 or 4 weeks and over by Easter.
Well, that didn’t happen. We discovered that it is easier to shut everything down than to re-open again. We left a reasonably full church on the last Sunday with most people there, without masks and without social distancing but with hand sanitisation, pre-cut bread and individual communion glasses. We expected to return gradually, with care and caution but eventually resuming normal worship. However, by June we realised this was not going to be the case. We were in it for the long-haul.
And there is a good reason for that. As I’ve said many times over the past few months, if you suppress something, then it tends to come back. If you stick a jar over a wasp without a plan to either kill it or get it safely outside to freedom, then when you remove the jar, the angry and agitated wasp will sting you.
So, what will a so called circuit break do? Well, I suspect that it will not be completely complied with and that lowest compliance will be in exactly the areas where measures are most needed. It will bring unnecessary hardship and chaos to areas where it is not needed. It may lead to another temporary suppression of cases.
However, here are the problems. First of all, that if this is introduced, it will become part of a regular toolkit. There’ll be another circuit break in a month, then another 2 weeks after that (it is the way of the world that these events get closer and closer together). Furthermore, as we’ve seen with local lockdowns, the night before the measures come into play, we will see people out on the streets for one last party. Now, here is the thing, a strong view is emerging that the virus primarily is transmitted at super-spreader events rather than through everyday activities. In other words, our pre-announced harsh measures are basically creating super-spreader events.
Once again, what we are not doing is stopping and asking the questions. Why are there particularly extreme surges in some areas and not others? Why has London taken longer to be hit by the second wave than Sandwell and Birmingham, Oldham and Liverpool? Why has Liverpool ended up straight into tier 3 whilst Birmingham and Sandwell have not? Why did COVID-19 stay too high in some places when we came out of lockdown and why, despite the reimposition of strict measures do we not seem to be making any headway in some of those areas?
For what it is worth, I think the idea of tiered responses tailored to local situations is probably best. If this is accompanied by the sort of questioning mentioned above, it might just have a positive effect. I suspect as well, that we will need to work harder at identifying the exact hotspots -right down to post-codes and alongside that, areas where we are virus free. We probably should look at firmer measures to reduce travel between areas and to ensure that proper quarantining is needed.
As a northerner at heart and someone currently living in the West Midlands, I am saddened by what is happening in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and The West Midlands. It is painfully frustrating not to be able to see family and to be restricted in my own pastoral work. I really don’t like the idea of people in Westminster imposing things on us. However, I recognise that the situation is serious and that we need to treat it as such. Ideally there should be greater local conterol and greater local responsibility for our response to COVID-19.