Lockdown has failed – time to try something else

Many won’t like what I have to say. But I’m saying it: Lockdown has failed. It is time to try something else.

The purpose of a lockdown is not to prevent infection until we get a vaccine. A vaccine may take a few years. By that time under lockdown, there will be no functioning economy, hence no means to create and distribute a vaccine. And many will have died from starvation, anyway. The real purpose of lockdown was to give the health services time to prepare for the surge of patients manifesting Covid-19.

Unfortunately, our health services have been so looted by criminals that even such a stalling tactic is a bit like trying to bail water out of the Titanic with a tablespoon. Lack of government will or public outrage gave thieves impunity, who’ve done an excellent job destroying the health service. So: what we have, we have. It isn’t much and is not likely to get any more even if we stay on lockdown for years.

Beyond that, let’s face it: people no longer believe in lockdown. Many, unsurprisingly, have lost faith in it.

Promises of care for those unemployed during lockdown have substantially not manifested. In some cases (surprise surprise!) state support has been unevenly distributed (i.e. with political malice aforethought) or simply disappeared. Restrictions on certain goods like tobacco seem to have double agendas: some connected to decisions are allegedly connected directly or through family to the illegal tobacco trade. (Not to mention the ‘sin’ tax losses the State has incurred in this time).

And then there is unemployment. Apart from thousands of jobs already lost, and those facing extinction (e.g. wine and tobacco industries), there are countless small and medium businesses facing bankruptcy. Millions (some estimate up to 7 million) face unemployment, opening the prospect that we become even more of a ‘state on welfare’ than we already are – with even less income tax to provide benefits!

In short, keeping lockdown going is now pointless. At best it may mean that when people starve to death, they will at least – hooray! – die with clear lungs (especially enforced non-smokers!). At worst one can surmise that the exercise is one of subtle culling and an opportunity to make a killing (pun intended) on all the land and resources that bankruptcy will make up for grabs.

So what’s the alternative? Return to a new normal, where we get on with our lives, with masks and sanitisers and as reasonable social distancing as possible. We must face the fact that many, perhaps most, of us will eventually get Covid-19 – and some of us will die. (That is the case even in lockdown). To use an analogy, it’s like the ‘age’ of HIV-AIDS. People haven’t stopped having sex; they’ve just taken more precautions. (Or they haven’t and faced the consequences).

Am I being harsh? Yes. But we are out of options and must make the best of things. Ethics is not always what’s best, but what is (a) possible, (b) workable, and (c) the lesser of two evils. It’s time to grow up, unlock ourselves of delusions, and live responsibly.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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