COMMENT: Is shutting down the economy the best way to tackle coronavirus?

COMMENT: We may disagree with how to tackle coronavirus but don't close down free speech

Harry Mottram asks for tolerance for those with alternative views on the crisis

Twitter and social media is creating an environment where nobody is allowed to diverge from the accepted way to tackle to the menace of coronavirus. The near universal view is that to end the crisis we must lockdown populations, ban socialising and force non-essential businesses to shut up shop.

Anyone who dares to suggest a more nuanced or relaxed view to the orthodoxy is immediately told to shut up by a host of keyboard warriors on the Twittersphere and by commenters in general.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for his initial hesitation in imposing draconian measures to restrict the public from normal activities like going for a walk with friends. In part the lockdown rubs up against his natural libertarian views of freedom of choice and as he said the public’s inalienable right to go to the pub. That hesitation was blown away when it was seen that large numbers of people flouted the initial advice to avoid crowding in shops, pubs and parks.

Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail was widely criticised for his article entitled ‘Is shutting down Britain REALLY the right answer?’ His suggestion that restricting the economy and enforcing lockdowns may not be the answer was treated by critics as though he suggested the nation should start eating new born babies. He questioned the suspension of civil liberties while on the crashing of the economy he wrote: “The incessant coverage of health scares and supermarket panics has obscured the dire news coming each hour from the stock markets and the money exchanges.”

Likewise Brendan O’Neill writing in The Spectator was concerned that closing pubs was a step too far. He wrote: “But to halt everyday life, even pub life, in response to it? We didn't do that during the far worse 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. Or during the Second World War. Or when the IRA was bombing actual pubs. We carried on. The pub continued. It had to. It’s the space where people meet and debate and fall in love and read their newspaper.”

Critics such as the Labour MP David Lammy and others react to these renegades calling them dangerous and irresponsible when they are simply articulating a different opinion.

I’m not a fan of the President of the USA Donald Trump but when he said this week he wanted to get the American economy restarted he had a point. Without a healthy economy there are fewer jobs and businesses fail leaving many high and dry and in debt. It may not be the answer in halting the spread of coronavirus and is at odds with medical opinion but there is an element of truth. The shutdowns are killing business.

In defence of these alternative views the self-employed, the unemployed and those on zero hours contracts have been left out of the Government’s rescue plans so far. And despite the chancellor’s rescue packages many businesses will not qualify for the loans. They are being left to fend for themselves while many in both the public and private sectors on salaries are being protected.

There is a substantial body of opinion that is not convinced by the current lockdowns and crashing of the economy. But to shut these people up is not the way forward for a democracy that is having its basic liberties reduced. People may point to China as to how they have apparently defeated the virus but this country is not a totalitarian one party police state where the mildest criticism is met with torture, beatings and prison. A different point of view should be embraced and discussed for its pros and cons and not shut down.

Harry Mottram is a freelance journalist.

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