In Depth

Instant Opinion: coronavirus lockdown ‘turning us into a nation of spies’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Thursday 14 May

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

1. Jenni Russell in The Times

on the nation’s new pastime: curtain twitching

Lockdown is turning us into a nation of spies

“It’s been a revelation to discover how ready Britons are to spy on, report and judge those around them in this pandemic. Almost 200,000 reports of lockdown breaches had been made to the police by the end of April, exhausting many forces’ capacity to respond. Several forces pleaded with the public to deal directly with transgressions themselves, if they could do so safely, involving police only for the most serious ones. It’s all the more curious because for the past couple of decades there’s been a public reluctance to be seen to judge others. People who have complained about any aspect of someone’s behaviour — loud music, aggression, scanty clothing, obese airline passengers taking up too much space — have generally found public ire turned on them instead. They’ve been accused of body shaming, slut shaming, interfering in something that’s nothing to do with them. Everyone must do as they please and only vile busybodies would even notice. But given license in lockdown to join in the observance of it, we Britons have exploded with indignation, retribution and dislike.”

2. Kim Fox, a consultant cardiologist, Stephen Westaby, a consultant cardiac surgeon and Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist, in The Daily Telegraph

on the need to the NHS to resume normal service

The non-Covid death toll is rising. We cannot wait months for the NHS to return to normal

“It has been clear for some time that the health service’s efforts to cope with Covid-19 have had a profound impact on the health outcomes of patients suffering from other conditions. What we are witnessing is nothing less than a ‘parallel epidemic’ as thousands of people have been denied or chosen to avoid treatment for illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer because of fears over Covid-19. In this context, the suggestion that hospitals may not return to normal for many months is an alarming one. The lockdown in the UK started on March 23 with ONS statistics showing a very obvious deterioration. In four weeks in April, there were approximately 40,000 extra deaths compared with what would normally be expected at this time of year; 30,000 of these were attributed to Covid-19 while 10,000 were not. There may be some discrepancies in these statistics, but the overall trend is clear: while Covid-19 related deaths have increased to an alarming degree, so too have deaths from non Covid-19 related causes. How can we have allowed this to happen?”

3. James Moore in The Independent

on putting the safety of children first

A rare, coronavirus-linked inflammatory disease is spreading among children. Reopening schools now would be ludicrous

“Some spectacularly stupid narratives have emerged from the pandemic that Britain is at the European epicentre of. The ones surrounding schools are a case in point. They make it very clear that it isn’t just on matters concerning Brexit that this country and its government excel themselves in all-round s**t-headery. The story goes something like this: Teachers, and especially teaching assistants who get paid 39p and a packet of fruit gums if they’re lucky, aren’t really people so we can send the kids back because they’re clear; they don’t get Covid-19. So let’s chuck ‘em in together, and let them do what kids do; get mucky, hug each other, spit at each other, and sometimes at their teachers and teaching assistants (who aren’t people, see above). They need to learn! And (more to the point) get out from under our feet. If that means their educators have to take one for the team, so be it. This is a war, dammit. Except, it seems that maybe children can get burned by the virus. Rarely, it should be said. Covid-19 is a much bigger issue for their grandparents (and we seem to have forgotten that they’re people too). But it has recently emerged that a number of kids are getting hit, and in a quite nasty way, from a rare inflammatory disease that can prove fatal.”

4. Simon Wren-Lewis in The Guardian

on economic scaremongering and the austerity that follows

The scare stories about government debt are back. Ignore them

“The lessons from what happened 10 years ago are simple and clear. There should be no discussion about the deficit until interest rates and inflation start rising substantially because of excess domestic demand. Only then will we know that the recovery is complete. As we do not know what kind of recovery from the pandemic we will have, talking about what is needed to balance the books is premature because we just do not know how much is required. Indeed such talk may in itself harm the recovery, because people spend less if they think tax rises are coming. Am I overreacting to just one leaked document? If political reports are correct, we have already seen Treasury pressure persuade Johnson to relax lockdown before he should have. As premature lockdown just delays the day people feel secure to start spending on social consumption again, Sunday’s announcement reflected short-term penny pinching with a much bigger long-term cost. Which sounds very similar to austerity to me. We must not let this happen again.”

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5. Charlotte Charles in The Washington Post

on her fight for justice following the death of Harry Dunn

An American driver fled home after killing my son in Britain. I want her to return and face justice.

“The British police have done their job and charged her with causing death by dangerous driving. But the U.S. Embassy in Britain advised her to leave the country. The British government requested her extradition, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected the request in January. The State Department called the extradition request itself ‘an egregious abuse.’ Is this the way to treat your closest ally? Anne’s husband may well be a U.S. intelligence officer, but that does not put her above the law of a friendly country. Although the maximum sentence for the crime she is charged with is 14 years, it is seldom imposed, and then only in cases of serious negligence resulting in death, such as speeding or texting while driving. If the court found that Harry’s death was an accident (which it surely was), and given that Anne has three children to look after, it would be possible for her to receive a noncustodial sentence if Harry’s father and I were prepared to forgive her and ask for mercy. Months ago, our lawyer told hers that we were prepared to do just that. So why didn’t Anne come back to Britain?”

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