Lockdown supporters must be ready for the same medicine every winter

When Professor Chris Whitty said this week that restrictions on normal life might still be needed…

When Professor Chris Whitty said this week that restrictions on normal life might still be needed next winter, most people shrugged. Que sera sera. We’ll cross that bridge. Let’s deal with one year at a time.

But next winter will come soon enough, and if, as appears likely, Covid will still be with us in one sneaky variant or other, it stands to reason that restrictions will again be imposed. Who would bet now that the government, next January, won’t be under pressure to enforce a circuit-breaker lockdown to make up for all that partying over Christmas 2021? All those grannies and grandpas might have dared to see their grandchildren, and youngsters may, horrifyingly, have made merry like it was 2019.

Even if we take an optimistic view and imagine that by then the world will somehow have eradicated Covid, we can be sure that influenza will rear its ugly head, as it has every winter since the year dot.

‘Pah!’ people might say. Influenza shinfluenza. But, hold on. Influenza is deadly. Before this year it routinely killed around 20,000 people each winter in the UK – sometimes far more. As I know from ghastly experience, influenza can develop, like Covid, into pneumonia, hospital admission and oxygen up your nose. All too often, it means intensive care, ventilators and, tragically, death. As recently as the year 2000, more than 56,000 people died from influenza or pneumonia in England alone.

Now, surely, no one would classify thousands of deaths from influenza as any less awful than thousands of deaths from Covid. It therefore follows that if we are prepared to lock down to protect the vulnerable from one virus that kills, we must do so to protect them from the other. Every winter. Isn’t that just logical and humane?

Those of us who even question the wisdom of lockdowns are heavily outnumbered. The opinion polls show that the vast majority support them. In fact, three in ten people say the government should have locked down even harder, earlier and longer. They say the government’s insistence that we should stay in our homes, however poky, unless we’re going out for an essential reason, is somehow not sufficiently draconian.

Fair enough. They have every right to say that. But if they think that such stringent rules are justified, I fear they’ll have to support those same rules again and again. The reason is staring at us in the face: over the last 30 years, the number of hospital beds in the UK has halved, yet our population has expanded by nine million.

Millions more people, many fewer beds. Go figure. It’s obvious that we’ve created a recipe for annual disaster. “NHS on brink of winter crisis” screeched the Guardian on January 6, 2017. “NHS hospitals still in grip of winter crisis”, said the same publication almost exactly 12 months later. Year after year, a healthcare crisis turns up right after Jools Holland.

Somehow, the NHS has coped. I put that down to the dedication of its staff, for which those of us on the receiving end of pneumonia have been only too thankful. That said, even the NHS can reach breaking point, and it would indeed have been a brave prime minister to decide, last March, when Covid hit us, that the NHS would just have to cope again, that we should ‘do a Sweden’ and continue pretty much as normal.

But short-term decisions have long-term consequences. Once you’ve locked down once – a measure that we would all have thought unthinkable a year ago – it’s that bit easier the next time. And so on.

The most obvious solution, albeit costly, is to reverse the policies of the last three decades, and build enough hospitals to serve the 67 million of us now crammed into this small island. That’s not such a radical idea given that our failure to do so, while allowing our population to spiral upwards, has led over the last ten months to the deepest recession in 300 years.

Failing that, we must resign ourselves to yet more NHS winter crises. And now that we’ve gone through three lockdowns without complaint, it also surely means bracing ourselves for more restrictions that could well become annual events. Sadly, that’s the lockdown logic.

Source Article