Taking the world as it is

I’ve seen quite a lot of speculation over the last few days – some of it, I’m ashamed to say, from people who are related to me – that it’s time to stop putting the economy at risk for the sake of protecting the elderly and the vulnerable from COVID-19. We need, they claim, to send the kids back to school. And to allow everyone under the age of fifty to get back to work.

This approach may appeal to frazzled home-schooling parents across the land. And to those struggling to pay their rent. Yet while I’m not usually a fan of the baby boomer generation, it does seem a little callous to throw them to the coronavirus wolves so that we can keep the wheels of commerce turning.

I’d rather have a few more weeks of David Attenborough, to be honest, than another twenty years of Weatherspoon’s, Sports Direct and Virgin Atlantic.

The snag with this approach is that it might well backfire, given that it’s entirely bereft of supporting scientific evidence. While scientists around the world are working frantically to understand the virus and to guide our response, we still don’t know a huge amount about COVID-19 and how it affects different people.

Why do some people develop no symptoms at all while others die? Do some children not get the virus or do they just not exhibit any symptoms? If they don’t exhibit symptoms, can they still transmit the virus to others? And why does the virus appear to affect people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds more severely than others? We just don’t know (yet).

What we do know is that COVID-19 is killing a lot of people. Some of whom, incidentally, are neither elderly nor vulnerable.

I can understand completely why some people are keen to draw the lockdown to a close and to get us back to something approximating our normal existence. Sacrificing your parents or your grandparents in return – or, at the very least, sentencing them to a life in solitary – seems a little excessive to me, but I guess everyone has to follow their own moral compass.

The difficulty with such speculative proposals is that, no matter how much they might appeal to the ‘I’m not a scientist, but…’ demographic, we have absolutely no idea what their impact might be. Despite the Government’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, simply asserting something doesn’t make it true. And wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true, either.

We need to take the world as it is, not how we would like it to be.

The key to making decisions at times like these is to be guided by the facts. The time to send kids back to school is when the facts tell us that it is safe to do so. The time to get us back to work is when the facts tell us that it is safe to do so. The time to end the lockdown for everyone is when the facts tell us that it is safe to do so.

It may get to the point, I suppose, at which things get so bad in lockdown that we need to think about making trade-offs that we wouldn’t make in ideal circumstances. But if we’re going to do that, we need to understand the decisions we’re making and to know for sure what the impact will be. A knee-jerk reaction based on wishful thinking is not the way to proceed.

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