On 23rd March 2020 Parliament gave Government draconian emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act. These powers were temporary and intended to ensure the prevention of avoidable deaths. The public admirably complied with lockdown restrictions to ensure that the NHS was not overwhelmed and lives were saved. Many paid a high price in terms of their own healthcare needs, their businesses, their education, their livelihoods and wellbeing. Over subsequent months the number of hospitalisations and the death rate dramatically fell. We accepted the sacrifice was worth it.
Now people want to rebuild their lives. We understand we will be living with the virus for months, maybe years. As a matter of personal and social responsibility, we all take measures to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities: Hands, Face, Space. Once hospitals were empty and daily deaths were in single figures, further restrictive measures were introduced. Now we have a new rule that says we may not meet family or friends in more than groups of six.
The challenge for Government comes when the public perceive these powers to be disproportionate to the risk. A Covid case can mild symptoms, no symptoms, or even a false positive. We see the empty hospitals. We hear about ‘snitching hotlines,’ Covid Marshals and women giving birth alone. Yet there is no evidence that the suffering this sacrifice causes is preventing avoidable deaths. Scientists seem focused on ‘zero covid’, no matter what the cost.
The temporary powers Parliament granted to Government are due for review by MPs at the end of September. Parliament will be asked to permit these emergency powers to continue. It is time for Parliament to fully debate and contribute to the Government’s strategy. MPs have been side lined by the Coronavirus Act. It is time democracy played its part in determining how as a society, we live with Coronavirus in a way that does not create avoidable deaths from other causes.
I supported handing emergency powers to Government in March, in extremis, to prevent deaths. We are in a different place now. It is time for Government to make the case for retaining these powers and allowing Parliament to decide if they should continue. We know how to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities, so do we really need the Government to tell us how many family members we can have for Christmas dinner?