In Depth

Instant Opinion: ‘We need Big Brother to beat this virus’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 20 April

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Clare Foges in The Times

on surveillance

We need Big Brother to beat this virus

“The Keystone Coppery of recent weeks has had some people muttering darkly that we are heading the way of a police state. Those who style themselves as defenders of ancient British liberties will soon have bigger fish to fry: the digital surveillance tools that government hopes to use to trace the infected. Prepare for dire warnings of state intrusion and an avalanche of Nineteen Eighty-Four quotes on social media warning that Big Brother is upon us. Yet if we are to beat a path out of this pandemic without destroying our economy, overblown concerns about threats to our liberties must be countered by pragmatism. To recover some semblance of normality before a vaccine is found, we must accept the need for the state to access more information about ourselves, our health and our whereabouts — and not waste precious weeks arguing about it.”

2. Tim Stanley in The Telegraph

on the new normal

No country, not just Britain, has a plan for what next – all we can do is wait

“Pandemics are survived, not beaten, and with the timeless methods of isolation and patience. If Britain did cap its death rate and then lifted the lockdown, we would all fear the damn thing would come back, so any ‘lifting’ that we do enjoy in the next few months is going to be highly cautious and concentrated. Kids might return to school. Perhaps you can get a drive-thru McDonald’s. But don’t be surprised if we’re living in a stop-go state of suspended animation for a long time. My gut says over a year. It leaves us trapped in the most loopy logic imaginable. If the death rate falls, we shall say it’s proof that the lockdown works. If it rises, we shall say that we need more lockdown. In the absence of a vaccine, the establishment seems to have concluded that the lockdown is the only tool we have, or at least that the alternative might be thousands of times worse.”

3. Chris Deerin in the New Statesman

on Nicola Sturgeon’s dilemma

Why coronavirus will force the SNP to entirely remake the case for Scottish independence

Independence is itself a big idea, of course, if a somewhat blunt one. Before the pandemic struck it seemed entirely achievable, as a posh, right-wing, pro-Brexit Conservative government at Westminster moved the UK further and further away from what we might term the Scottish ideal. The trials, tribulations and revenge lust of Alex Salmond aside, there was no real threat to the SNP’s eminence, or to Nicola Sturgeon’s status as First Minister. The party would walk the 2021 devolved election – the only questions were whether it would secure a majority of seats to enable that second independence referendum, and whether it could tempt the Scottish electorate’s floating middle over to its side of the argument. How quaint those times seem. Like a village suddenly overwhelmed by a burst dam, the independence debate sits submerged in the Covid-19 flood, overwhelmed by this massive natural force – out of sight, out of mind, its foundations subject to sudden and intense new stresses, the possibility of rescue as yet unclear.”

4. Ian Hamilton in The Independent

on turning to drink

Using alcohol to cope with coronavirus lockdown is exposing our class divides

“Covid-19 hasn’t removed inequalities in our society; it has exaggerated them. As with so many aspects of health, there is a class divide in the impact that alcohol has. While access to alcohol is classless, as it is relatively affordable to most, the results of drinking depend on where you are in social hierarchy. Those with the least tend to fair worse than those who are more affluent, even when they drinking the same amount. It is not just the amount of alcohol that matters but the impact it has. If you have a limited income then spending on alcohol can compromise how much you are able to spend on food or other basics, areas unlikely to be adversely impacted for those with more money.”

5. Charles M. Blow in the New York Times

on playing the media

Stop Airing Trump’s Briefings!

“Trump has completely politicized this pandemic and the briefings have become a tool of that politicization. He is standing on top of nearly 40,000 dead bodies and using the media to distract attention away from them and instead brag about what a great job he’s done. In 2016, Trump stormed the castle by outwitting the media gatekeepers, exploiting their need for content and access, their intense hunger for ratings and clicks, their economic hardships and overconfidence. It’s all happening again. The media has learned nothing.”

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