With public support firmly on the side of lockdowns, how can our freedoms prevail once again? Our liberties need reclaiming and the go-to government solution of a lockdown needs urgent reassessment, argues Tom Hewitt.

Lockdown sceptics have lost. I know this because I'm one of them.

My opposition has generally been motivated by three factors. Firstly, a philosophical belief that there should be a very high bar for the state to put restraints on our basic civil liberties, with a fear freedoms are not easily returned once given up. Secondly, a concern that the harms of lockdown have not been equally shared across society, with the young disproportionately suffering. Thirdly, a scepticism towards some of the arguments presented by the government in favour of lockdown, with a shifting of the goalposts away from protecting NHS capacity, towards trying to minimise infection rates at seemingly any cost.

Unfortunately, on all these fronts, it has long been apparent that the majority of the public simply don't agree, with some of the highest support for authoritarian measures in the UK of pretty much any nation. Despite much World War Two-inspired rhetoric about the British people's love of freedom, once in a crisis, like most national myths, this has swiftly been shown to be untrue. As a result, if we are ever to get out of this dystopia, the strategy is going to have to change.

How so? Well, to start with we lockdown sceptics are going to have to learn to work with the grain of public opinion, not against it. This means recognising that most people prioritise a sense of safety over freedom. And as safety these days tends to be equated with not getting Covid (a perfectly respectable position), we sceptics therefore need to constructively promote the one thing that will give people their sense of safety back: Mass vaccination.

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To achieve this, as well as requiring the end to anti-vaccine propaganda (always the most distasteful part of the lockdown sceptic movement), this will need prominent sceptics in the media, politics and sciences to stop wasting their time railing against lockdowns and towards putting pressure on the Government to ramp up the speed of the vaccination programme.

However, with lockdown scepticism unfortunately perceived to be comprehensively discredited in much of the media and public's imagination, before gaining a hearing again, we sceptics are going to have to make a difficult concession: We are going to have to admit this current lockdown is probably necessary.

Like most sceptics, I initially supported the March lockdown. At that time deaths and hospitalisations were rapidly rising to an unacceptable level. Having seen the scenes in Italy, the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed did seem to be a highly plausible scenario. My scepticism developed when even after deaths and hospitalisations had drastically fallen, we were still kept in lockdown for months on end. Worse, without any debate, I noticed the government had shifted to use the case count as the barometer to leave lockdown, not NHS capacity or deaths.

Consequently, once infections inevitably did slowly start to tick back up in the early Autumn, I felt the harms of rushing back into stricter measures was disproportionate, with hospital capacity more than sufficient. Worst of all was the unnecessary November lockdown, with data showing the trajectory had already started to change on its own. What is different this time, is with the unfortunate arrival of the new variant, we now seem to be back in a similar situation to March 2020, with hospitalisations and deaths at genuinely high levels again, and little evidence of the tide turning without intervention.

Regardless of whether you agree with the analysis above, the current lockdown is happening. The battle that remains is whether we are going to be freed from lockdown once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated (eliminating 88% of deaths according to offical figures), which could be as soon as mid-February. Or whether we are going to be kept locked up indefinitely, on a precautionary basis, to minimise the risk of phenomena such as long Covid, as some of the bossier scientists are now starting to suggest. Knowing all of the wider harms lockdowns cause, I think it's essential we avoid this.

It is my hope that by conceding on the merits of the current lockdown (for the duration of the immediate crisis), we sceptics will regain the ability to play a part in the debate about what happens next: Rather than continuing to fight battles that have already been lost, we need to focus on what is still winnable – the swiftest realistic exit from lockdown possible.

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