Have you noticed that people are still having sex? The government would rather they weren’t. The louchest Prime Minister since Lord Rosebery is presiding over a government that is seeking to tightly regulate when and where we have hanky panky.
It’s not just sex. At 10pm, the bars must shut. They can’t play loud music. Graciously, the government is allowing them to have live bands with vocalists, but customers aren’t allowed to sing along. Since only six people can meet together, orchestral manoeuvres must take place in the dark. Earlier in the year, it was scolding sunbathers. Heaven forfend that anyone might actually enjoy themselves.
You don’t have to be a full plandemic anti-masker 5G Coronavirus conspiracy theorist to have a problem with this. There comes a point where we work so hard to survive that we forget about living.
The current restrictions work just fine if the highlight of your social week is to go to the supermarket, if you are in a long term marriage and if your hobbies are reading or arguing with strangers online. If you’re more gregarious, more active and less committed, they have a much greater impact on your quality of life.
For now, the public are on board with the idea of having firm restrictions to combat Covid-19. The noisy mask-hating manbabies command only fringe support. Just 13% think current measures are too restrictive. But there’s theory and there’s practice and just 18% of people required to self-isolate after developing Covid-19 symptoms are in fact doing so. Good intentions are not translating into consistent compliance with the rules (even supposing you understand what the rules are in the first place, which it seems most government ministers including the Prime Minister do not).
When the Covid-19 crisis first erupted in March, a strict lockdown was both sensible and widely observed, not least because there was a general expectation that this would be a relatively short term measure. We are now in October and even optimists doubt we will have a vaccine widely available until the middle of next year. Covid-19 may well be with us for a lot longer than that.
How long do you suppose that it is viable to tell teenagers and 20-somethings that they can’t have a night out and they can’t get a shag, and that they will just have to make do indefinitely with cold showers and Ovaltine? Personally, I’m guessing that a lot of them stopped listening many weeks ago.
The great insight of radicalism is to imagine the world as it could be, while the great insight of conservatism is to deal with the world as it is. At present the government is doing neither. A dose of conservatism is urgently needed.
Does all this mean that the government should simply give up on measures to combat the spread of Covid-19? No, of course not. It is obviously a dangerous and insidious disease, and the means by which it is transmitted are now reasonably well-understood.
No, the government needs to take charge of its scientific advisers and ask them to draw up a strategy for safer everyday living. We are in this for the medium haul at least, so instead of arbitrary and intrusive rules that are widely flouted, it would be better to have a general offence of “socialising without due care and attention” and a detailed code of practice – a Highway Code for Covid.
Within this, there needs to be a recognition that people will still be going on dates, that occasionally people will be meeting to drink something stronger than Ribena and that they may behave in a manner that might raise eyebrows at a church coffee morning. Instead of stopping people doing those things, which they will be doing in any case, the government should be advising them how to do so most safely.
The government dimly recognises all of this with its exceptions. If the rule of six was a flexible guideline rather than a hard and fast rule, it would not be mocked for the way in which it does not apply to workplaces, organised sports and grouse shooting.
If the Covid alert system were functioning effectively (and not abandoned, as it seems to have been), this would also help people make informed choices. Local lockdowns would also have more impact, since they would indicate much more powerfully to people that the risks at that time were especially high. It’s easier to persuade people to stay safe for a month than to stay alert indefinitely.
This is not a new idea. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, gay men were not given impractical advice not to have sex at all. They were advised which practices were safer and which were less safe, and steered towards getting the big head to guide the little head to follow safer practices. You can’t ask people to give up on their social lives forever, because they won’t. You have to help them make safer choices.
Britain did relatively well in combating AIDS in the 1980s, in part because the government engaged with the problem early and realistically. Britain has so far done poorly in combating Covid-19, but we are where we are. In any event, the government needs to rethink its strategy.