In order for you an image of the longer term, simply think about Matt Hancock forcing the nation into home arrest – for ever. No less than, that was the dystopian imaginative and prescient painted by the previous UK well being secretary throughout his flip on the Covid inquiry earlier this week.

Reflecting on early 2020, when Covid first hit, Hancock slammed the UK’s ‘woefully insufficient’ preparations for the pandemic. By this, he didn’t imply his division’s failure to stockpile PPE, or the NHS’s relative lack of beds, docs and nurses in contrast with different European nations. He wasn’t even referring to the truth that the UK had based mostly its pandemic plans on a flu virus fairly than a coronavirus. No, he was slamming the public-health institution’s failure to think about lockdowns earlier than March 2020. It was an ‘oversight’, he stated, that we didn’t plan for a lockdown and construct it into our pandemic plans. The good scandal of the Covid years, in accordance with Hancock, was not the unprecedented, wholesale destruction of our civil liberties, however the truth we didn’t plan to do it beforehand.

It will get worse. Hancock additionally thinks that the brutal restrictions we endured in 2020 and 2021 weren’t almost restrictive sufficient. The following time a virus hits, he stated, we have to take ‘motion’ that’s ‘wider, earlier, extra stringent than feels comfy on the time’. Primarily, he appears to imagine that with a bit extra lockdown, by ‘[hitting] the pandemic laborious’ and early, the UK may have escaped the ravages of Covid.

That is deranged. Wuhan in China tried to regulate the virus with a pointy, harsh lockdown in January 2020, quickly after Covid first emerged. Residents weren’t solely ordered to remain at dwelling by regulation, as we have been within the UK. In some instances, they have been additionally welded and barricaded into their flats. This being CCP-led China, the strictness, enforcement and surveillance was on a distinct scale. Is that this the ‘extra stringent’ kind of measure that Hancock has in thoughts for subsequent time?

These restrictions weren’t solely so onerous that the Chinese language authorities ultimately needed to change course, however in addition they didn’t cease the virus. The so-called Zero Covid coverage, which aimed to eradicate Covid in China, needed to be deserted in December 2022. By January 2023, an estimated 80 per cent of Chinese language individuals had been contaminated with Covid. Lockdown was examined to destruction in China. And it failed miserably.

Hancock’s testimony additionally ignored the expertise of Sweden, the place there have been by no means any lockdowns. Colleges remained open, as did bars and eating places, albeit with social-distancing guidelines and limits on group sizes. But regardless of this, three years on, Sweden has emerged with a few of the lowest extra deaths in Europe. By avoiding the extraordinary harms related to lockdown, it saved extra lives within the longer run.

Maybe much more alarming than Hancock’s name for extra stringent lockdowns is his name for ‘earlier’ ones. Primarily, it is a name for pre-emptive lockdowns – a name to close down society on the merest trace of a risk. This may be a recipe for semi-permanent restrictions.

In spite of everything, there have been quite a few public-health scares in even the current previous. In 2005, Professor Neil Ferguson, whose Covid fashions bounced the UK into its first lockdown, warned that 200million individuals may die from fowl flu worldwide. Fortunately, no restrictions have been applied and fewer than 300 individuals died. In 2009, the UK authorities’s ‘cheap worst-case situation’ for swine flu predicted 65,000 deaths. Ultimately, simply 457 Brits died. Even monkeypox – a illness seemingly unfold primarily by anal intercourse amongst homosexual males – prompted demands for school closures from some US public-health consultants when it flared up final 12 months.

Ought to we now have launched strict and early lockdowns to counter these illness outbreaks? A lot of them have been, at one level or one other, talked up as extinction-level occasions by not less than some public-health scientists. In line with Hancock’s precautionary precept, the Covid restrictions ought to most likely have been prolonged to counter the monkeypox epidemic, too.

Whereas it’s definitely a reduction that Hancock is not anyplace close to energy, his authoritarian considering has not gone away. You possibly can see this on the Covid inquiry this week, the place the previous well being secretary’s lunatic calls for for endless lockdown went completely unchallenged by his inquisitors. Certainly, the Covid inquiry appears to have already settled on the narrative that the UK’s lockdown was too late and too gentle (and, bizarrely, that Brexit may have been responsible for Britain’s Covid demise toll).

We might have escaped the Covid lockdowns, however the threats to our civil liberties stay. Lockdown legitimised authoritarianism on a terrifying scale. It turned political pygmies, like Matt Hancock, into would-be tyrants. We must not ever allow them to lock us down once more.