There's also a weird overlap between people who think liberties are non-negotiable in an epidemic, and those who wrongly believe that coronavirus is no more dangerous than the seasonal flu. Those two beliefs ought to be completely unrelated to each other - if you really think you've got the right to go where you want and do what you want and to hell with the consequences, there's no need to try to convince yourself and others that the harm being caused isn't that great. And yet one of this blog's resident trolls is forever selectively quoting an outlier expert (Dr John Ioannidis) who is almost alone in thinking the fatality rate may be 0.2% or lower. Even if that were true, why would it matter? Coupling such an argument with an attack on "authoritarianism" implies that restrictions are only inappropriate because the virus isn't as deadly as it could be, so does that mean our normal freedoms aren't actually quite so absolute after all? If, for example, this was an epidemic with a mortality rate akin to SARS (10%), would lockdowns, social distancing, contact tracing and quarantining suddenly be justified? If so, I think I'm entitled to ask why the high mortality rate we're currently seeing (some serological studies suggest it may be close to 1%) is acceptable when an even higher one wouldn't be. Civil liberties are, after all, a fairly meaningless concept for individuals who die or end up seriously ill in hospital - and they could make up something in the region of 15% of the entire population if the virus is allowed to spread freely. What the trolls are really arguing for is not so much libertarianism for people, but libertarianism for microbes. Thatcherism for pathogens. There must be complete freedom of movement for the virus to do its worst. Let's get rid of all that ghastly red tape that is hindering the epidemic.
But as far as human beings are concerned, lockdowns are actually preserving freedoms in the long run by making it more likely that people will stay well. Test, trace, isolate goes a step further and enhances freedom in the here and now by making it possible to lift lockdown safely - because by isolating the minority of people who really need to be isolated, the vast majority of the population can get back to something approaching normality.
On the other extreme, I also have a critic who has no problem with the suppression measures, but who thinks I'm being far too beastly to the UK government in suggesting that they were ever following a herd immunity policy. He reckons that it was merely an idea that was considered but never implemented - or if it was implemented it was only for a couple of days, because the first social distancing measures were supposedly announced very shortly after contact tracing was abandoned in mid-March. In truth, the government let the virus rip for at least ten days, which is why we'll shortly have the second highest death toll in the whole world. Large public gatherings weren't even banned in England until the day of the lockdown - the ban was announced earlier but it took that long for it to come into force.
There's ample evidence that herd immunity had been firmly decided upon before the U-turn occurred. A number of government scientists spoke about the plan absolutely explicitly. Graham Medley's Dr Strangelove-style comments would almost seem comical if they hadn't been so outrageous - he essentially said "we'd ideally like to make people immune from the virus by vaccinating them, but as we can't do that we're going to make them immune by infecting them with the actual virus instead".
As for the length of time that the herd immunity plan had been in place, Boris Johnson dropped a fairly heavy hint in a speech way back in early February that the die was already cast -
"And when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus would trigger a panic, and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other."
In other words, this is a mild infection and the Chinese attempt to suppress it is irrational. If other countries follow suit, there is a golden opportunity for Britain to gain an economic advantage by letting the virus rip. The Chancellor reiterated that point several weeks later on Budget day (by which time Nadine Dorries had already tested positive) by saying that Britain's approach would prove to be the right one - by implication a suggestion that other countries would be proved wrong.
On the day that the World Health Organization started using the word "pandemic", Matt Hancock took full advantage by falsely claiming this meant they were saying that nothing could stop the virus reaching every corner of the world. In fact, the WHO had been at pains to point out that the virus was still containable and controllable. The government were clearly scrabbling around for any justification, however dishonest, for sitting back and allowing the virus to spread. At around the same time, Boris Johnson cynically made a comment along the lines of "countries all over the world are giving up on their efforts to contain the virus". I recall that made someone I follow on Twitter burst into tears, because she knew it was a lie, and she also knew what the consequences of the lie would be for the people of this country.
On @BBCScotNine tonight Prof @jasonleitch in effect conceded to @mmgeissler that Scotland (like the UK as a whole) did not have the testing and tracing capacity to contain this virus at an early stage. So how come other nations, with less warning, did?— James Cook (@BBCJamesCook) May 4, 2020
Probably because they pulled their finger out, as opposed to spending the crucial weeks touring the TV studios lying to people that there was "no choice" but to allow everyone to be infected.https://t.co/W56ZkQbQ6m— James Kelly (@JamesKelly) May 4, 2020