“You’re joking … not another one?” Lockdown 2?

Remember Brenda from Bristol’s reaction to the General Election in 2017. A lot of us are no doubt feeling like that about the prospect of another national lockdown. Of course there are a lot of people pushing heavily for one too.

As a Christian and a church leaders I believe it is important that we submit to the Government’s authority on matters like this providing we are not asked to go against God’s Word. However, I found John Steven’s recent comments at an Affinity Zoom conference to the effect that submission is not the same as supporting very helpful.

Personally, I’m not convinced that the type of lockdowns we’ve seen are a brilliant idea. It was my view that the first lockdown could have been avoided.  This would of course have meant

  • Having strict border controls with quarantining
  • Ensuring that Care Homes were properly shielded and not having patients with coronavirus returned to them
  • Getting Nightingale hospitals and recuperation centres fully in use away from the general population
  • Having an effective Test and Trace system in place
  • Short, sharp nut complete localised lockdowns with travel restrictions (e.g. for London)

Those things did not happen and the result was a lockdown became necessary. That lockdown was never a complete lockdown, some people were still out and about working and using public transport.  However the effect was punishing, not only was the virus suppressed for a time but social behaviour and economic life too.

I am not convinced about a new national lockdown now. I’m not that much convinced about the local lockdowns either.  It seems to me that we came to the end of the first national lockdown and immediately we saw that there were places where the virus was still significantly prevalent, why? Well we didn’t really stop to ask why did we?  Yet as quite a few people pointed out, the answer staring us in the face was that the lockdown measures had not worked for those communities. Simply extending them was not going to help.

Now, the rumours are circulating that a new national lockdown will be announced on Monday and still we are not stopping to ask important questions or make important observations about behaviour.  You see, the vast majority of people are co-operating with measures as they exist. They are staying out of each other’s houses, they are social distancing, they are using track and trace processes and systems, they are wearing masks. However, there are a significant proportion of people who are well outside of those measures.

  • We are in a tier 2 area and we have a rule in place that you should not see other people outside of your household indoors at pubs and cafes. Having been down our local high street after the measure was introduced, I was surprised to discover who seemed to be in the same household.
  • People are still congregating outside pubs and clubs.
  • Schools have returned with all children attending. The limit to measures in secondary schools is that the children sit facing the front but there is no social distancing. Officially there are bubbles but these are year group based.  After school youngsters congregate and walk home together or catch the bus.

Let’s have a look at the last one. Now, I understand that smaller children (primary school age) appear to provide a lower risk of both suffering symptoms and spreading the illness. However, I doubt the same is true of teenagers.  So we have a significant proportion of the population simply not co-operating with the measures needed at all.

Their “bubbles” are a nonsense. The point of such a bubble is that it should be tightly sealed and strictly observed. You should only have contact with people in the bubble.  So, we have an obvious context where the virus can be quickly spread amongst school children and then taken home to parents and on to Grandparents.  We would have to be thick not to spot the problem there.

I must admit, I was surprised to see secondary schools return to full attendance. I could understand this happening with primary school. However, surely it would have been sensible to have phased in Secondary return. If students had returned part time, if there had been stricter, smaller, class sized bubbles, a hybrid mix of online and in person teaching and careful enforcement of social distancing rules on the way to and from school perhaps we would be in a different situation now.

As is often the case, we were more concerned about the form than the purpose. We were too occupied with “getting schools fully open” rather than with ensuring that children received the education they need.

One of the rumours, just a rumour at the moment is that the new lockdown will close everything except essential shops and education facilities. There are two major problems there, First of all, as we have seen in Wales, one person’s essential item is another’s luxury.  Secondly, we will be continuing to allow the very context where social distancing is not happening to continue whilst closing the ones that are.

It sounds like church buildings may be closed for public worship again as well as many shops and business. Yet, those are the very places where

  • Essential, safe and controlled social togetherness has been made possible (if in a very limited way)
  • COVID-19 measures have been strictly adhered to

Just to repeat, if you visit Bearwood Chapel tomorrow, you will be in a building where doors are open to ensure air ventilation. You will follow a one way system. You will use hand sanitiser and/or wash your hands on entry and exit. You will wear a face mask. You will socially distance.  The risk of transmitting COVID-19 has to be extremely low.  The same will be true of many businesses in Bearwood which may now have to close at a big time of the year for them in the run up to Christmas.

Furthermore, if the aim is to then re-open more normally at Christmas, then this suggests to me that we will be nicely cooking the virus amongst those not under restrictions ready to let loose at the mother of all superspreading events.

I would continue to urge the Government to think again and think carefully before implementing a new lockdown. It is not just about considering what will be proportionate and fair but about what is actually likely to work.

As regards Churches and also the many businesses in our communities. I believe the lack of proportionality here is something that should be challenged in the courts.  However, if the courts rule against us then we should comply with the lockdown. I will submit but I cannot support.

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