The UK is about to do a Bolsonaro. On the 19th July, that beleaguered nation will shift from a managed Covid response (however weak), to an ungoverned one based on pure libertarianism. Or gibberarianism (another neologism, surely new word of the year?) if you will. This involves the withdrawal of all Covid restrictions by the state on the people at that date.
The philosophy is called ‘personal choice’ or perhaps ‘personal responsibility’. And the keyword here is personal, because from 19 July the idea that some citizens have some responsibility to show some constraint, for the good of both themselves and others, goes out the window in the UK.
One is forcibly reminded of Thomas Hobbes description of how societies may operate in the absence of government, and which seems particularly apt in the case of Covid 19: ‘… and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.
Which of course also describes the scenes in Leicester Square after Italy won the cup. No, no just joking.
The British state will thus eschew any responsibility to prevent those vulnerable from getting a first, or subsequent, bout of Covid. It is true that there is a high level of vaccination in the UK, and well done them for that. But it is also true that the Astra Zeneca vaccine used over there is only around 72% effective and the government is now talking about a third top-up jab in September.
The truth is, the UK is in a parlous state. Yesterday there were 36,000 new Covid infections reported. A new wave, based on the Delta variant, is well underway. One estimate is that infections will reach 100,000 per day once all the restrictions are off. No-one denies that there will be deaths, and the media is reporting a lot of fear among vulnerable populations. Oh, to come through this for so long, get the jab, repeat, get protected, get Covid and die!
The only question for us in New Zealand is whether, as numbers soar (and I think that means now, actually), we are going to put the UK on the list of very high-risk countries, currently occupied by India, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Brazil.
If you remember, it was the emergence of the Delta variant in India that led to these restrictions being imposed, as large numbers of infected NZ residents started turning up at our border. The restrictions are still in place, with only NZ citizens and their families allowed back in at this time.
The debate at the time was whether this was a racist policy or good public health practice. Well the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, won’t it?
I predict that the number of infected people coming in from the UK with the Delta variant is about to start increasing quickly, and indeed may already have done so (since the Hamish Walker/ Michelle Boag debacle, the Ministry of Health has stopped publishing place-of-origin data online, but numbers are increasing).
I predict that, with reluctance, the government will be forced to put the UK on the very high-risk list by the end of the month, thus spawning huge protests from those affected, who thought the policy was only for brown persons.
I further predict that this cesspit of viral mutation (I mean the UK, not Boris Johnson) will spawn a further damaging variant by the end of September, which will be even more transmissible than Delta and against which the vaccines will be less effective. We could call this the Iota variant (as in “Boris doesn’t give one iota about this”).
We (the world) are not by any means out of the woods as yet and, with our low rates of vaccination, New Zealand is particularly vulnerable. Now is not the time to give up and declare game over, but to avidly defend our people through effective border policies.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.