How many people would you happily give Covid to in exchange for your ‘freedom’? That was the question I put to the lauded actor, failed London mayoral candidate and denounced social media loudmouth Laurence Fox this week after an article of ours, posted here, made the rounds on social media among his anti-vax brigade courtesy of a disgruntled tweet.
Earlier in the week Neil Oliver used his GB News segment to say what was seemingly on the minds of many of the Fox clan, that curtailing the spread of the virus at the expense of certain freedoms was not something they are willing to do, regardless of the consequences. In his words, “If your freedom means I might catch Covid, then so be it. If my freedom means you might catch Covid, then so be it. For the sake of freedom, yours and mine together, I will cheerfully risk catching Covid.”
Precisely what freedoms he was referring to is anyone’s guess. Since 19th July life in the UK has pretty much returned to normal, allowing people to go about their day-to-day business, minus the occasional hand sanitising and mouth covering, as they see fit. But even that seems to be too much of an imposition for some people, with the choice of whether to wear or to not wear face coverings a new front in a culture war that has gripped the world for nigh on two years.
In theory, pandemics should be great levellers. Rich or poor we are all in this together, unsure of what turmoil is to come or how our lives will pan out, all kept in the same suspense over whether our favourite holiday destination will be on the amber list or whether, mid-flight, it might turn red. But in reality, it has exposed great inequalities. People who, like me, can easily earn a living working from home in the comfort of my front room know nothing of those who work in industries that are so cruelly yet so commonly hardest hit by events such as this. While I find covering my face, keeping my Track and Trace app ticking and obediently isolating where need be of minor inconvenience, not everyone is so fortunate, and those inequalities can easily bleed into other misgivings about chipping in ‘for the common good’.
Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor of government who teaches a course on ethics in an age of pandemics (how’s your luck!), has shed some light on this. In his words, even though the pandemic highlighted our mutual dependence, it is striking how little solidarity and shared sacrifice it has called forth. In many ways, “it caught us unprepared – logistically and medically, but also morally. … (It) arrived at just the wrong moment – amid toxic politics, incompetent leadership and fraying social bonds.”
As economic inequities mushroom and social isolation festers, many people have come to feel betrayed by government, the marketplace and so-called elites. “For them,” Dennis Wagner writes, “rejecting science and spurning authorities is a statement of moral outrage rather than an act of selfishness”, and that much, on reflection, I can understand.
Yet Covid-19 has no politics or ethical code. It acts on a principle of proliferation and has killed more than 4.2 million people worldwide – especially now those who didn’t get jabbed. Media personalities like Oliver and Fox may have found their niche in pandering to those who (understandably) feel like they have been betrayed by the system, but this isn’t the time for political point scoring. We’re all in this together whether we like it or not, and there will be a lot more than freedom at stake if we cannot band together on this one.
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