The balance of risk from coronavirus has shifted
Speaking in the debate to approve the extension of coronavirus restrictions I took the opportunity to ask that we consider the short and long-term best interests of our whole society recognising that the vaccine programme has shifted the balance of risk.
Debate for extending coronavirus restrictions - Wednesday June 16
"Following the science is an attractive and even comforting idea in a time of uncertainty. But—I say this as a scientist—we can no more follow science than we can follow history. Science gives us knowledge and understanding, but it cannot give us wisdom, and it is wisdom that we need to make what are essentially moral and political decisions about how we balance the short and long-term best interests of our whole society. I am saddened that we have lost—I hope only temporarily—that sense of balance.
Preventing death from COVID seems to have become the principal purpose of our national endeavour, no matter the cost to our way of life.
We have placed insufficient emphasis on the terrible long-term consequences of lockdown—poverty, unemployment, lost education, debt, undiagnosed cancer, loneliness, hopelessness and fear—and focused far too narrowly on just one set of metrics: the daily COVID data. Even the most hardened libertarian would accept that, in a national emergency and in the face of significant threat to life, restrictions on our freedoms have been necessary and right, but with all vulnerable people having now been offered vaccination, the balance of risk has shifted.
COVID is no longer a substantial threat. The average COVID mortality so far in June is seven deaths a day—seven out of around 1,500 daily deaths that we could expect in normal times. The number of people in hospital now stands at 1,177—some 37,000 fewer than at the peak in January. Thanks to the incredible efficacy of our vaccination programme, it is hard to comprehend how our hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed. The idea that we are still in a state of emergency is not supported by the evidence, yet significant legal restrictions on our basic freedoms are to remain, even dictating how many of our family and friends can visit us in our private homes. The restrictions we face are now out of proportion to the threat, so extending the measures sets a dangerous precedent.
We must learn to live with COVID in the way that we live with so many other risks.
Vaccines will never be 100% effective, just like seatbelts, smoke alarms or contraception, but it is vital to our autonomy and our identity as human beings that we are able to make our own choices and evaluations of everyday risks, as has been the norm in our country for generations.
I have the greatest respect for Ministers, who have had to make unimaginably difficult decisions over the past year, but now is the time to restore a sense of balance, proportion and fairness, and to make a return to life in all its fullness.
In my final seconds, I want to say this: childhood should be a time that is care-free.
Testing our children twice a week, making them wear masks when they are not at risk, and constantly reminding them that they may be a danger to people whom they love, is damaging them psychologically, and we have to stop.