Stephen Humphries, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, explores this question: Will people get back the freedoms they’ve lost to Covid restrictions? Two slices (the second is from the caption of a photo that accompanies this essay):
According to Human Rights Watch, 83 governments restricted free speech and free assembly in the name of pandemic protections. Enforcement of those measures could be harsh. Youths in the Philippines were locked in dog cages following curfew violations, says Ms. Pearson. In India, police physically assaulted 10 journalists who reported that a COVID-19 roadblock in the southeast was preventing villagers from reuniting with their families. South Africa enforced a ban on cigarettes and alcohol by setting up roadblocks to search cars for contraband.
Victoria’s pandemic lockdown rules have come in for criticism, as a pregnant woman faces up to 15 years in prison for a Facebook post.
It’s simultaneously saddening and maddening to read such headlines coming out of a once-free country: “Boris Johnson ready to confirm the return of indoor socialising and dining from May 17: At a Downing Street press conference on Monday the Prime Minister will confirm six people or two households will be able to mix inside.” A slice from the report:
That means six people or two households will be able to mix inside, pubs and restaurants can restart indoor dining, and overnight stays will be allowed from next Monday.
From that date people will also be allowed to hug each other again, face masks will no longer be needed in secondary school classrooms, and cinemas and theatres can reopen.
(DBx: Seriously, if in 2019 someone had shown you a credible report on a government’s plan to allow as many as six people to mix inside, and also to allow people again to hug each other – or a report of a pregnant woman facing up to 15 years in prison for a Facebook post supporting the right to protest – from what country would you have supposed such a report to come? China? North Korea? Venezuela? Had such a report come from one of these, or some other, totalitarian country, we in the west would have been aghast and quick to denounce any government that presumes to exercise such power over peaceful people. Yet for the past 15 months, most denizens of the so-called “free world” have allowed themselves to be tyrannized in the name of fighting SARS-CoV-2. Shameful.)
What joy it must have been to be an Australian over the past year – assuming that is, you weren’t one of those citizens unfortunate enough to have been abroad when Covid struck and have as yet been unable to return home. It hasn’t exactly been a non-stop party – crowds were banned from Sydney’s New Year celebrations, and everyone across the country has faced the prospect of being caught out by instant lockdown. Yet Australia can and does wear its low Covid death toll – just 910 since the beginning of the pandemic – as a badge of pride.
But, as the World Health Organisation loses no opportunity to tell us, this is a crisis which is far from over. And when the historians do finally get to deliver their judgment, it is far from certain that they will end up looking kindly on the countries that at present can boast of low Covid tolls.
Trouble is, once you have battled Covid with strict border controls, how do you ever open up again in a world in which Covid-19 has become endemic? In Australia’s case it isn’t going to be happening soon, to judge by comments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. While Britain plans to reopen borders furtively from a week’s time, the Australian government has already put back its own scheduled reopening from this year until some time in 2022. Australians, says Morrison, are enjoying their freedoms and they don’t have an appetite for change so long as there is a threat from importing Covid variants. Yet that threat will never go away so long as Covid is present anywhere in the world.
In Australia’s case, according to the think tank the McKell Institute, border closures are costing the economy Aus$203 million (£115 million) a day. Meanwhile, China may have been able to boast of being one of the few countries whose economy actually grew in 2020 – by 2.3 per cent. It is going to struggle to prosper, however, if it continues to fight Covid-19 as it has done to date: with savage and instant lockdowns.
It isn’t just the measures themselves which harm economic activity; it is the mentality which they implant in the population. Having established the principle of zero tolerance of Covid, it is going to be extremely difficult to switch to a policy of living with the virus, as European and North American countries have accepted they will have to do.
If actions taken over the last few months, even the last year, are anything to go on, a pattern is clearly establishing itself. At the start of the pandemic, significant changes were made by governments, with the implementation of numerous restrictions, even lockdowns, to cull the virus. It was at least remotely reasonable when the case numbers were increasing largely day by day, although in many circumstances this has been the fault of governments and their poor response systems. Now, however, when even one case pops up it’s straight to panic stations. The case is announced, the media hype it up to be more than it is, in turn causing a response from rent a quote “medical experts” and the social media fear-dwellers who call for restrictions. The relevant government then holds a press conference to announce new restrictions, or in the case of most Labor states a snap lockdown, and everyone is yet again required to cede their freedoms to a bunch of politicians who either have not a clue what they are doing or know exactly that and are deliberately doing all they can to assume as much power as possible.
During a segment on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Fauci said that possibly, if “certain conditions” are met, Mother’s Day 2022 might look close to “normal.”
So just to be clear, Fauci’s position is essentially Schroedinger’s Mask. It entails a simultaneous belief that:
1. The flu season was practically nonexistent last year because everyone was wearing a mask.
2. Covid had a second wave because not enough people were wearing masks.
“I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks, clearly if you look at the data it diminishes respiratory diseases, we’ve had practically a non-existent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominately against Covid-19”
A year later, [Canada’s Health Minister Patty] Hajdu struck a notably different tone at a House of Commons public safety committee hearing. Canada’s borders had been closed to all non-citizens for more than a year. Additionally, the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had mandated a draconian practice of quarantining all arriving passengers in government-approved hotels to the tune of $2,000 (CAD) for a three-day stay.
Conservative Party health critic Michelle Rempel Garner recounted a harrowing recent sexual assault which had allegedly occurred at the government’s newly mandated hotel quarantine facilities, demanding to know what data justified forcibly confining Canadian citizens to monitored hotel rooms.
This time, Hajdu’s response was different. “Every woman deserves to be free of violence and a life of dignity”, she noted.
But, these border measures are in place to protect Canadians, and they will remain in place until science and evidence indicate that it is safe to release them.
How did we get here? Canada ranks ahead of the United States on the Human Freedom Index. It has an entrenched bill of rights in the form of its Charter, and a generally permissive culture. But emergencies turn countries topsy-turvy. Much of Canada’s national destiny rests outside of its control. National budgets have long skimped on defence investment, under the unspoken assumption that our military-superpower neighbour and ally to the south would intervene were Canada ever to come under foreign threat. Canada has been in the happy circumstance to seamlessly flit from being the dearest ally of the world’s last two great powers (the United Kingdom and the United States, naturally). Yet its British constitutional heritage has meant that it generally lacks a widespread culture of liberty, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising that a parochial and draconian pandemic response turned out to prevail.
During the pandemic’s first wave, Canada’s Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island pursued an aggressive ‘COVID zero’ approach. These provinces banned all who did not reside in the province from entering. The bans were cruelly absolute: immediate family members could not be permitted to attend funerals (even if willing to quarantine), married couples residing apart were not permitted to visit, Canadians from other provinces were barred, for a period, from accessing their properties in Atlantic Canada.
What have all of these strict rules afforded Canada? According to the government’s stated rationale of protecting the country from variants, not much. The United Kingdom B117 variant is now dominant, representing about 75% of new cases. British Columbia is currently host to the world’s worst outbreak of the P1 variant outside of Brazil, with over 700 confirmed cases (including the majority of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team). Most likely, the variants arrived by way of the millions of truck drivers and essential workers who continue to cross from the United States into Canada and who are exempt from quarantine requirements, and not the tiny fraction of air travellers who were always subject to home quarantine and have been the targets of Canada’s pandemic theatre.
The BBC reported that, last April, the UK banned all new fertility treatments. This means some couples have or will miss their last chance to conceive. “If you’re 25,” says Dr Barry Witt, a fertility centre medical director in Connecticut, “you can wait a year. If you’re 40 that’s a different story.”
It’s not too late to learn from 2020 and “follow the science,” as President Biden likes to say. One place to start is with Mr. Mulligan’s findings summed up in a press release for the study: “Data show that as a result” of prevention protocols put in place by employers, “workers have been 4-5 times less safe outside their workplace than inside it. While stay-at-home continues to be pushed as promoting public health, nobody is checking the data which say the opposite.” And that was before vaccines.