Understand the Rules
The media circus surrounding Dominic Cummings’ trip to the North continues, and now a junior minister has resigned over the embarrassment. He said he could not explain to his constituents why they had suffered so much during the lockdown when a senior Government adviser had made such a journey.
For me, this case has two worrying aspects: firstly, that people seem ignorant of the actual rules we are required to obey and unaware of what we are still permitted to do, and secondly, people seem to want to judge with their emotions rather than logic based on facts.
The purpose of the rules is not to repeal the Equality Act or The Human Rights Act or any of the other acts intended to protect our basic rights and freedoms. Rather, it is to reduce the spread of a potentially lethal disease and save lives. Too rigid an interpretation of the rules would be counter-productive, as it would prevent other safety precautions built into society functioning to protect people from other risks, so a measure of balance and common sense is required. Children and other vulnerable people still need safeguarding. People with disabilities still need assistance. Sick people still need to see a doctor. Police, Fire, and Ambulance services still need to be available. While shutting down much of society which can be deemed non-essential, essential functions have never been shut down. That is not, and never has been the purpose of the restrictions.
So, travel for leisure has not been permitted. Travel, even for an extended distance, has always been permitted if it could be justified by a sufficient purpose. We have never been permitted out during the lockdown, except for certain specific purposes, drawn vaguely so as to enable interpretation where necessary. Going out to support a vulnerable person or for medical reasons is vague because the alternative would be to think of and define every possible type of support which could be given to every kind of vulnerable person. The same applies to medical reasons, which cover everything from daily exercise to attending an appointment if one can get one or collecting a prescription, to driving an ambulance. There are overlaps, of course. Driving an ambulance is also going to work in a key function, another reason for being out.
I myself have been going out frequently to support a vulnerable mother and her disabled and even more vulnerable son. I won’t hide the fact this woman is also very dear for me, and it is a great relief that supporting her also enables me to enjoy her company as a welcome by-product. This actually helps me to understand the pain and acute distress caused to others who cannot see their loved ones, even those to whom they are romantically linked but not married at this time. That is an appalling position to be in. I know exactly how I would feel if I didn’t have this particular happy unhappy coincidence. Her dire straits prove a blessing in a time like this. Of course I can understand the envy of those unfortunate enough not to share her misfortune, who have to undergo the unbearable pain of separation! Of course there’s a sense of injustice about this. That’s because the lockdown is cruel. I’ve always had my doubts about whether it will do more harm or good. We might have needed to do something, but this might not have been the right something. History will tell us more in due course.
I still suffer from the lockdown. I cannot enjoy the Summer as I wish. I am limited in how far I can go on my bike. This might be my last chance to cycle down to the South Coast before I move further North and it becomes just out of reach, and I can’t do it yet because there’s nowhere to stay if I get stuck. I cannot be sure the local cycle shops will be open to repair the bike, or that I could safely come home on a train. These options are my normal strategies for coping with exhaustion or breakdowns. Without them it is difficult to go further than I can walk back. I cannot visit or socialise with my friends. I cannot get my hair cut. I have had to postpone routine Blood Tests I need to protect my health. I have just one safety valve, and I can quite understand how impossible things must seem for those who have none, those who live alone, are acutely lonely and now chronically lonely with all their options for associating with others cut off. Yes, the lockdown is cruel, and that is why people judge emotionally rather than logically when they see someone less restricted. I too feel angry when I see others apparently flouting the rules, for it causes me to fear tighter or more prolonged restrictions than we already have.
We have to keep in mind the purpose of the rules. They are there to limit the spread of the virus. They are not there to deny people basic needs or rights, and perhaps they are too narrowly drawn. If one meets people from more than one other household one provides a channel of transmission for the virus. Actually, if two or three households met in a closed group with no contact outside that group, they still would provide no onword route for transmission, but unless documented would be difficult to monitor. However, that would be less cruel, and would enable loving relationships for courting couples or wider families to continue, which would ease a lot of the stress. What needs to be avoided at a time like this is networking, where households link in a network spreading across much of the nation, providing routes for ongoing transmission. With more thought, something like that could have been implemented, but it would need documenting and checking, and policing it might be difficult. However, activity which does not actually promote the spread of the virus should not, in principle, be a crime.
There is one other aspect of the Cummings case which does raise my eyebrows, however. He claims he took his family on a trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was still good enough to drive. That looks odd, because the legal eyesight test for driving does not involve driving, just reading a number plate at a specified distance. Moreover, one should never drive while unsure of ones fitness to drive. That is a serious crime because it puts others at risk, outside the car as well as in it. Furthermore, why would one undertaking such a test drive subject ones family to the risk? Taking a small child to a place of safety when fearing incapacity might be permissible. Taking that small child out for a drive when unsure of ones fitness to drive does not. That sounds reckless.
As a cyclist, I don’t want to share the road with reckless drivers.