The UK Beat COVID-19, But Can It Beat Lockdowns?

Even with coronavirus deaths at a trickle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won’t rule out more lockdowns.


Sixteen months on from our first recorded COVID-19 death, Britain finds itself in a paradoxical position: We're finally on the verge of defeating this awful virus—but we haven't yet beaten lockdown.

With 70 percent of Britain's adult population fully vaccinated (and vaccination rates among seniors over 90 percent) daily COVID-19 deaths have slowed to a trickle. Even with a spike in cases thanks to the Delta variant, deaths have hardly budged. Having reopened the indoor economy back in May, we're seen only a small rise in hospitalizations, even if cases have soared.

In short, the vaccines worked.

If you'd have shown these numbers to Prime Minister Boris Johnson six months ago, he would have jumped for joy. But that hasn't been the case. Instead, he and Britain's other political elites find themselves locked in a cycle of hyper-caution. The last COVID-19 rules were finally scrapped on July 19, only to be replaced by guidelines telling us to keep upholding them. Here are your freedoms back, but please don't exercise them.

Things may get worse. Having once called ending lockdown "irreversible," Johnson is now refusing to rule out restrictions this autumn and winter. Less than a week after so-called "freedom day," Britain's chief medical officer (our equivalent of America's Anthony Fauci) is already talking up the prospect of another lockdown. That will only bring more fear and uncertainty to businesses that have endured six months of forced closure.

The problem isn't the Delta variant, it's the top of the government: Johnson himself. After his own near-fatal brush with Covid, our once supposedly libertarian prime minister finds himself reborn as the king of caution and a proud nanny statist. His new mission is not just to save us from any risk of COVID whatsoever but also the things that got us into such a mess in the first place—just look at his deeply illiberal war on junk food and his pledge to make vaccinations compulsory for clubbers.

Listening to a podcast about the George W. Bush presidency last week, I couldn't help but sense some parallels. Like Bush, Johnson came to power as an energetic and modernizing conservative, only to find his plans derailed by a deadly black swan. For Bush, that swan became an obsession that reshaped his entire political philosophy, largely for the worse. I suspect the same has happened to Johnson.

A return to lockdown would be both a moral and economic disaster for Britain. And what could possibly justify it? Self-styled "zero Covid" types (some of whom are favorably quoted in The New York Times) warn that rising hospitalizations will result in serious disruption to Britain's state-run health service. That might prove to be true. But is it really enough to return to the days of criminalizing sitting on park benches and violently dispersing peaceful protests?

Britain has a new problem—not Long Covid, but long lockdown. Once designed as a temporary aberration, authoritarian restrictions are now seen as part of the political toolbox, and not just for COVID-19. If we get a tough flu season this winter, expect to see politicians calling for closing hospitality industries and restrictions on private gatherings. The return of mask mandates (lifted in England but not Scotland and Wales) seems like a safe bet.

All of the arguments for more lockdown can be quickly dismissed, but only if politicians are brave enough to do so. If living with COVID-19 means an increased strain on health services, then we need to fix the problem at the source. Increase healthcare capacity rather than curtailing our freedoms. Maybe that would be cheaper than the cost of lockdowns.

Instead, far too much of our political energy remains focused on managing COVID-19 caseloads instead of declaring victory over COVID-19 deaths. Rather than dealing with the shocking education and health backlogs caused by lockdown, Downing Street is concentrating on defending its test-and-isolate program (a multi-billion pound tech dystopia that has taken millions of workers out of the economy), tightening punitive travel restrictions, and stepping up testing in schools.

Given where we were in January (daily death tolls over 1,000 and Britain back in a full-scale lockdown without an exit date) it all makes for a rather mixed picture. Despite much initial skepticism, Britain's vaccine rollout really was world-leading. Our long lockdown did end, albeit at a slower pace than most of Europe. Having topped the vaccine league, we have now become the first major economy to learn what "living with Covid" really means. (As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished).

That's why it's so vital that Britain rediscovers its once-cherished commitment to freedom, and quickly. If we go down the road of permanent restrictions, we could end up setting the model that countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada follow. Such a step would be a disaster: not just for the countries concerned, but for liberalism itself.

Here's hoping Boris Johnson can come to his senses and stop that from happening. The U.K has beaten COVID-19. Now let's beat lockdowns, too.

NEXT: I Trapped the Devil Is as Unclever as Its Title

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Wait ’til November when we get the Epsilon Variants and everyone starts freaking out again.

    1. GoogIe ahora paga entre 17488 y 24900 dólares al mes por trabajar en línea desde casa. Me incorporé a este trabaj0 hace 2 meses y he ganado $ 27540 sdv en mi primer mes de este trabajo. Puedo decir que mi vida ha cambiad0, ¡compIetamente para mejor! Mira lo que hago.>>>> VISIT HERE

  2. our once supposedly libertarian prime minister finds himself reborn as the king of caution and a proud nanny statist.

    Trump II.

    1. king of caution and a proud nanny statist.

      Literally not Trump. More like Biden without dementia.

      1. SPB has a major Trump crush.

      2. How soon they forget the $3 trillion Trump Welfare and Handout Plan of 2020 that Trump insisted on putting his signature on every welfare payment?

        How can you have a serious discussion with someone who denies 2020 legislation than Trump loved so much he WANTED TO SIGN?

        PS: Biden sucks too!

        1. Per the usual script buttplug shows up, rattles his TDS whistle, spits out some mundane oh they are all bad, and retreats to watch his collection of…you know.

          1. Yeah, they pretty much all suck.

            You need to go over to – the site Andrew Bratfart started to worship the GOP.

            Is that POS still dead?

            What scumbag he was.

            1. Is that POS still dead?
              What scumbag he was.

              Is that the best you can do, parroting back to us what we say about you?

            2. OK, this Impostor Buttplug comment is more subtle than others from earlier today, but it’s still clearly fake. Here’s how I know:

              1. Real Buttplug spent 8 years crediting Obama for the strongest economy in US history.
              2. Real Buttplug’s preferred metric for economic performance wasn’t GDP growth; it was Warren Buffett’s net worth.
              3. Warren Buffett is already up over $13 billion in half a year under Biden.
              4. Real Buttplug economic theory therefore leads to the conclusion that Biden is doing a fantastic job.
              5. Any alleged Buttplug comment saying “Biden sucks” must be the impostor.

              1. Start making money this time… Spend more time with your family & relatives by doing jobs that only require you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $65000 to $70000 a month. I’ve started this job and earn a handsome income and now I am exchanging it with you, so you can do it too.
                You can check it out here…—–> READ MORE

      3. Biden never has claimed to be anything even close to libertarian.

        Drug warrior-check
        Mass incarceration-check
        Blow trillions of taxpayer money on government programs-check

        Yet somehow, 2/3 of self proclaimed “libertarians” voted for him

  3. Seems quite rash given how well Britain has pulled out of covid and vaccinated a large portion of its people.

    1. Covid, indeed, seems responsible for “rashes” of poor behavior…. and a certain amount of “itching” among those who love power.

    2. That is what being a left prog lib is all about, rash actions that change nothing.

  4. The limey’s have not beaten diddly-dick. Covid whipped them.

  5. The only thing that can defeat tyranny is checks and balances. It is why in any situation where all the ‘normal’ institutions of government are focused on what is an abnormal situation (war, emergency), then that is precisely when mobilizing the militia is a requirement. Having a militia mobilized forces very different decisions re say a lockdown. Maybe even more important, since militia is temporary duty the clock start ticking increasingly loudly the moment mobilization starts. Once they decide to go home – the emergency/war is over. Which means you better have a victory condition that is not subject to mission creep.

    1. Now that the Legislative branch delegates rulemaking, enforcement and adjudication to executive agencies, there are no more checks, balances or separation of powers. It’s all executive fiat.

      1. In UK that has always been the case a bit except that the executive is a subset of the legislative and the judicial didn’t even exist as a separate branch until a few years ago. IDK how the UK can ever do this structurally – and the number of cameras in London tells me that it ain’t gonna happen anyway.

        There is a way back for the US. The DeRps have less than zero interest in changing anything for the better if it has a chance of diminishing their power. And unfortunately the LP seems to be perfectly ok trying to sell purist (read anarchist basically) libertarian ideas through what is now an authoritarian/fiat type government structure. Rather than selling a Kantian/Madison liberty structure and simply assuming that the outcome will be as libertarian as people can accept.

        1. The problem of organizing a state, however hard it may seem, can be solved even for a nation of devils, if only they can be rational. The problem is: “Given a multitude of rational beings requiring universal laws for their preservation, but each of whom is secretly inclined to exempt himself from them, to establish a constitution in such a way that, although their private intentions conflict, they check each other, with the result that their public conduct is the same as if they had no such intentions. – Immanuel Kant

          Even though this is idealistic, I still think that the reason we have devolved to an imperial executive is because we failed to revise/amend even overhaul our constitution to accommodate all sorts of changes in society that could or do create potential checks and balances. The executive fills the vacuum created by those failures. From political factions/parties to Jacksonian ‘populism’ to the end of the ‘need’ to ‘accommodate’ slavery to the expansion of suffrage to the ‘mass society’ of industrialization to civil associations. All we included was ‘militia’ and then failed to keep that alive (and perverted it when it was alive).

  6. Another brick in the wall of the long slide from world empire to Airstrip One.

  7. I believe what we are seeing here is the English-speaking world’s fear of the ‘We’re all gonna DIE!’ media. Having watched the media’s effect on Trump – a known killer of millions, just like Facebook and Texan voting laws – the officials lie awake in fear that even one death will be blamed on them.
    The economy is not understood by anyone in media, it involving maths and stuff, so loss of income can be attributed to just about anything excepting a policy of avoiding even one death.

  8. What is this jackman guy talking about? Freedom day has passed and freedom is in full force, including the freedom to ignore any guidelines.

    The jackman guy is worried because the boris guy won’t categorically rule out future restrictions? Even if the boris guy did that, it could be reversed, so who cares?

    And who is the jackman guy to say that the UK has finally and permanently beaten covid 19? Delta is different enough to be considered a different threat, and the delta story has yet to be told.

    The boris guy seems disinclined to do any more restrictions, which is about as good a promise that you’re ever going to get from any politician, given that they can always reverse course no mater what they say at any given moment.

    1. If I locked you in a cage in my basement it could be reversed, so who cares?

      1. You’re conflating a promise about the future with what is actually happening now.

        If you weren’t currently locking me in a cage in your basement, but refused to say that you wouldn’t do so in the future, what is my injury? I’m not locked in a cage in your basement.

        Suppose you were running a business, and your employees and customers wanted you to promise that you wouldn’t ever close the business. You’re open for business now, but they want you to promise to never close, notwithstanding any future contingencies that no one is able to forecast.

        Either you lie and say you’ll remain open (and then just close when it doesn’t work out), or you tell the truth that you can’t rule out closing down, because the future doesn’t come with a guarantee.

        1. So, forget any planning for your business?

  9. There is definitely going to be a new wave of covid 19 and all people should be thinking about how to survive it. My advice to you, explore new methods of making money. I also advise you to learn how to invest in stocks and good bonds. If you want to communicate with me personally, here is a link to my profile it is a forums where I often sit

    1. There is definitely going to be a new wave of covid 19 and all people should be thinking about how to survive it. My advice to you, explore new methods of making money. I also advise you to learn how to invest in stocks and good bonds. If you want to communicate with me personally, here is a link to my profile it is a forums where I often sit

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.