Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 22nd October 2020.

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Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West 3:30 pm, 22nd October 2020

If we were to ask a scientist, “How do you stop a virus that spreads through human contact?”, we should not be surprised if he answers by telling us that we must stop human contact as far as is possible. It falls to us, however, to decide whether the price is worth paying in terms of the misery and unemployment it generates. We are talking about a generation marred in their life chances; and mindboggling borrowing that we will have to pay off over years, which will diminish proper investment in public services and industry. All that, and for what? The Secretary of State has told us this week that the average number of deaths is consistent with the long-term average for this time of year. Some 1,600 people die every day, but covid is by no means chief among their killers. It is no good to say, “Well, every other jurisdiction in the world is following basically the same policy”. That would strike me as herd stupidity.

Speaking of herds, I understand that a number of Ministers have questioned the existence of herd immunity, which is odd, given that a successful vaccine programme relies on herd immunity and that is the basket into which the Government have placed all their eggs. We can throw into this mix: the fact that we appear determined to claim every possible death as a covid death, as though we were in some sort of international league and competition; the failure to be absolutely up front on the limitations of the PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test as a means of tracking the disease; and the way we use large numbers to terrify people. We have been told that intensive care units are at 80% of their capacity, but of course at this time of year that is exactly what we would expect them to be. No wonder our constituents are writing to us with ever greater conspiracy theories—it is because our actions defy rational explanation.

Hallelujah—the consensus has been broken; the Prime Minister has finally resisted the advice he has been given by the scientists, just at a time when the Opposition have embraced it with enthusiasm. Now at least an argument can be had, and proper scrutiny and freedom from groupthink will arise. The danger is that if we do not change the way in which we respond to this disease, in years to come historians will pick over how a prosperous society entered into such a devastating act of self-harm.