The Conservative Case for Another National Lockdown | Callum Sayer
As a Conservative voter, I believe in personal freedom and responsibility, without the interference or overbearing attitude of a large state. However, I acknowledge that the state should be there to provide support should people require it.
It is for that reason that I support the measures that the government has put in place to shore up the economy, even if they do go against Conservative principles. And I could reel off statistics from the government about how many people have been supported, but I don’t really see how that would help in this case.
The only statistics that need to be shown here are the accelerated cases of coronavirus, driven by the new variant that was first detected in London and the south east, but as of New Year’s Eve, has caused large areas of the south, the Midlands and the North into the Tier 4 ‘stay at home’ restrictions. However, I would personally go even further, and whilst I accept that this may be unpopular among many readers, the instruction that I would be pleading with Boris Johnson to give to the British people right now is this. You must, stay at home.
Why am I calling for a stay-at-home order?
So here comes the million-pound question. Why would I, as a Conservative voter, who believes in personal freedom, personal responsibility and believes in the power of the economy be pleading for the Prime Minister to ask us, the British people to make even more sacrifices and go to a national lockdown akin to the one that we had in March? Well, in my mind, and I concede that this may be a simplistic argument, it comes down to two things, capacity in the NHS and the national vaccination programme.
By imposing a stay-at-home order, however unpopular it may be, it enables the government to do three things, which when put together, when things do ‘get back to normal’ – to use the cliché, the additional sacrifice that is required from the British people will be worth it when future historians come to look back on how coronavirus affected life in the United Kingdom.
Creating more capacity in the NHS
The first thing that a national lockdown can do is enable more capacity to be built in the NHS. We already have the Nightingale hospitals ready to go, built by the armed forces in a matter of days, but I cannot remember if they were activated during the first peak in March, and during the second lockdown in November. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said that the Nightingale at the ExCel Centre is ready to receive non-life-threatening care patients. Opening the Nightingales around the UK to receive patients, staffed by a combination of the armed forces, NHS doctors and volunteers.
Other ways to create capacity and avoid the prepapice that is being seen in Wales could be to cancel all non-urgent operations. This may not be a popular choice among the public, especially given the fact that Chris Whitty and Professor Stephen Powys have consistently said that the NHS should be open for business throughout winter, but given the current state of play, I cannot see any alternative. You just need to listen to this call to LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty to know that keeping the NHS open for non-urgent care, whilst also expecting the frontline staff to care for a tsunami of COVID-19 patients is not viable
This intensive care doctor, who went viral in March with his plea for people to stay inside, called LBC again. Exasperated, he asked why he should carry on treating Covid patients if people aren’t wearing masks in public.@ShelaghFogarty pic.twitter.com/JqM2r1BVuD— LBC (@LBC) December 31, 2020
Confidence to NHS Test & Trace
When NHS Test & Trace was launched, sans app in the summer of freedom (I term that loosely, but I think in the summer of 2020, we all thought the worse was behind us), Boris Johnson boasted that NHS Test & Trace would be a ‘world beating system’. Now, all of us know the problems that came, and it certainly was not ready for the schools reopening in September, but we are needing to start a track and trace system from scratch, so there will be teething problems as it gets going.
So, in my hypothetical scenario where a March lockdown happens, how can Test & Trace rise to the challenge. Well, for a start, it should be centralised, but rather, devolved to local authorities who know their areas well. Conservatives believe that centralisation just leads to more bureaucracy, and as Test & Trace’s data shows, where it works in tandem with local authorities, it is reaching nearly 92% of contacts of people who test positive for coronavirus.
Another way for confidence to be restored in NHS Test & Trace could be an amalgamation into the new body that will take over the duties of Public Health England, if and when that gets set up. In time, I am sure that Test & Trace can be a world beating system, and even repurposed if we need to test for the next pandemic that comes our way, but for now, it does have teething problems and that needs to be ironed out. A national stay at home order can do that by freeing up testing capacity in the system, which in turn can be rolled out to other sectors when the time comes to reopen the economy.
I accept that calling for another national lockdown, given the restrictions that it has on our freedoms and our lives is not going to be a popular thing among many of the readers of this article, and I don’t expect many to agree. But all of us can agree that cases are exploding rapidly, and the NHS is being stretched in unimaginable ways.
In the absence of a national lockdown, I must make an appeal to all readers to follow the rules of their local areas, and if they do experience symptoms of coronavirus, then please get tested. As the slogan says: