Many Brits recently displayed their anger over social media at those who flocked to social venues over the weekend to enjoy themselves as the UK endures the coronavirus pandemic. Relatedly, the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, wrote a piece for Government Executive arguing that the only way to stop the spread of this virus is through social distancing because for every confirmed case of Covid-19, there are likely to be another five to 10 people with undetected infections. That makes what many Brits did last weekend all the more embarrassing and explains the more drastic response from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
UK PM Boris Johnson Announces Lockdown
On Monday night, March 23, Johnson addressed the nation and stated that people may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary,” and to shop for essential items and medical supplies. If people do not follow these rules, the police have the power to issue fines.
With the UK’s death toll currently at 335 and people socializing in a flamboyant way last weekend, some form of a lockdown was inevitable, but Johnson’s decision was not made lightly. Whilst he has maintained that self-isolation and social distancing are the most effective strategies to defeat this virus, when numerous individuals are purposefully putting lives at risk, there has to be consequences. Everyone is entitled to individual liberty as long as they are not abusing it at other people’s expense.
The Incredible Difficulty of Enforcing a Lockdown in the UK
The Prime Minister has consistently followed the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of England, Professor Chris Whitty, and the Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance since the coronavirus started to cripple the globe. Days ago, the Daily Mail reported on a graph that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies produced which shows that social distancing can reduce the potential death rate by up to 25 percent.
However, a lockdown will be incredibly difficult to enforce. As Sky News‘ Mark White argues, the vast majority of people will obey those restrictions, but it will be hard to establish whether they are complying with orders to leave their homes occasionally. It will also be problematic for them to police supermarket queues when they are having to enforce the Government’s other measures at this time. It will only become clear over time how the Government intends to enforce its rules as the National Police Chiefs’ Council continues to cooperate with politicians.
The one US state that seems to have introduced the most measured response to Covid-19 is California. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s “stay at home” order last week. It has forced the closure of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, public events, gyms, and convention centers.
The Greater Tragedy Lies in the Fact That So Many Britons Defied the Prime Minister
Meanwhile, petrol stations, pharmacies, grocery stores and banks, as well as law enforcement and offices that provide government programs and services, will remain open. But Newsom has not deployed the police to enforce his rules like Johnson has, and maintains that social pressure will force many people to stay at home. He has expressed his faith in basic common sense. It is a pity that Boris did not follow the California Governor’s lead and has insisted on punishing the majority for the actions of a minority.
The number of British coronavirus cases is spreading rapidly and the Prime Minister had to enforce his social isolation measures, but the Californian model is the best way forward as the state has closed all the venues where the disease is likely to spread, and Newsom has enforced a “stay at home” order without the need for police officers. It will be interesting to see if Boris’s measures stem the number of Covid-19 cases, but it is a pity that the police have been brought in to do so, and the greater tragedy lies in the fact that so many people defied the Prime Minister last weekend in the first place.