There is probably no need to relay the fine detail of the latest madness announced by our government.  A population traumatised by almost a year of fear-mongering by its leadership and various previously unknown advisors (who incidentally seem to be enjoying their new-found fame), is now being threatened with penalties of 10 years in jail for “skipping bail”. On return from a “red list” country, you now need to purchase a 10-day stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, or alternatively pay with your liberty.

Coming from the “levelling up” brigade, this is a bitter pill to swallow. It will hardly present much of a barrier to the wealthy, who will no doubt be able to arrange deluxe quarantine for themselves. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised – after all, this is the outfit that came up with the depraved policy of imprisoning children in their homes for a fortnight without medical diagnosis (based on a highly unsuitable non-clinical “test” result) – while at the same time exempting “high value business travellers” from quarantine.

Back to the latest policy. I will not try and give a detailed run-down of the horrific crimes you can commit and be guaranteed – even if you serve out your full term, which is unlikely – a lesser stay in jail.  Lord Sumption has done this eloquently elsewhere, as well as outlining in detail why the government’s actions are even more unhinged than we have become accustomed to.  What is also frightening is that – again – such draconian policies are being introduced without proper debate within the Houses of Parliament. And Lord Sumption is right to point out that the language used by government ministers is that of the dangerous fanatic: “stopping at nothing” to achieve a mystical end product is a recipe for disaster, especially given the current direction of travel (pardon the pun) towards tyranny. Especially when taking into account the words of Grant Shapps this morning, possibly indicating that these restrictions might be in place until the rest of the world is vaccinated. Really?

So back to this this mystical end product. What is it that they are trying to achieve? I would very much like to know this, as it is entirely unclear. I don’t see how it is going to save many (if any?) lives, or improve people’s quality of life, noting that we still haven’t seen any balanced analysis re the pros and cons, as recommended by SAGE as a key requirement in the minutes of a meeting held on that fateful 23 March 2020: “Given the clear links between poverty and long-term ill health, health impacts associated with the economic consequences of interventions also need to be investigated”.

What has been known for months is at least now being talked about publicly: SARS-CoV2 is endemic in the UK, and in much of the world. Don’t take this from me – this comes from Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as reported by ITV.  SARS-CoV2 is a coronavirus, and there are four major other named ones: 229E, HKU1, NL63, and OC43.  These viruses are seasonal (i.e. when tested, more people have them during winter months), and have been around from years, as this journal paper from 2010 shows, considering diagnostic respiratory samples collected in Edinburgh between 2006 and 2009.  They have little or no impact on life as we know it.  In fact, you could argue that they are helpful, if they help train our immune systems to cope with future challenges.

These viruses continue to mutate, and any of them could – one day – mutate into the plague.  But are they likely to? Life is full of risk, and I would argue that a fully functioning economy – including one where, unlike at the minute, research on new treatments and drugs continues uninterrupted – is one of the best defences against future threats. Eradication – even if it were possible to achieve – has cost/benefit implications, and society should be discussing what to do next, not acting under duress and threat of ridiculous penalties that are hugely out of proportion. I certainly do not wish for society to spend huge resources – and cause much economic hardship – to make our immune systems weaker and making us more susceptible to future illness.

It is not acceptable to keep people’s lives on hold on the “never never” while the government continues to shift the goalposts. It might be OK for the healthy wealthy to enjoy their big gardens and work from home, but children are missing out on their childhood (and not training their immune systems by socialising with their peers), and grandparents are having their final days taken from them. This has to stop.

Please can we accelerate the great opening up. It is long overdue.


Dr Alex Starling (@alexstarling77) is an advisor to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies.