Of course, flexibility in the rules around the lockdown is desirable. Without it we would face the absurdity of people acting in ways that defeat the purpose of the law in order to obey the letter of the law. Take, for example, the lockdown rule that requires infected people to isolate themselves in their main residence. Strictly applied, that rule would require someone who contracts the virus while staying in their second home to travel back to their main residence infecting those they encounter on the way and their family members when they arrive: an absurd result and contrary to the underlying policy of limiting the spread of the virus. Hence, flexibility can be characterised as being in the public interest.
That said, flexibility is clearly inconsistent with the claim that “we are all in it together”. Why? Because the richer you are the more flexibility you enjoy albeit the less you need it. Examples are:
- the author who has been luxuriating on his country property where he can leave the house to roam secure in the understanding that his savings and pension make him safe against any recession or
- Dominic Cummings who could flee his spacious London home to lockdown on a family estate in Durham safe in the knowledge that the money will continue to flow into his bank or
- Boris Johnson who could quit the comforts of Downing Street to recuperate in the manor house and 600 acre of Chequers without putting his job or income at risk or
- the Prince of Wales who transported himself, his disease and his wife from the confines of Clarence House and St James’s Palace in London to the northern vastness and the fastness of Balmoral Castle and its many thousand acres at no risk to his astounding inherited wealth or
- his mother, who seems less concerned than her own parents about being able to look Londoners in the eye and who left her London palace to hunker down in her castle at Windsor with no financial risks to disturb her sojourn.
However, for many people, no matter how dire their circumstances, no matter how dire their need to escape those circumstances, there is no such ‘flexibility’. Many find themselves stuck in cramped accommodation with frustrated children or even, perhaps, violent partners or sick or aged relatives. Many of them have no financial resilience. For them the lockdown rules bring loss of employment and, at best, being forced onto state benefits with the harsh prospect of their lives getting much worse before there is the slightest chance of their getting back to ‘getting by’.
The fact is that flexibility exposes the empty and sentimental claims that “we are all in it together”. Worse, it comes as an insult to those whose lives are being reduced to rubble when it is uttered by the well-heeled from the comfort of their spacious properties and financial security. If they must draw attention to themselves, those public figures should openly acknowledge both our privileges and exemption from the pains of lockdown and the huge burden that we are expecting the least able to bear on our behalf. And we should say “thank you” not just in words but in a determination to push back against the unearned privilege and gross inequality that this emergency has shown up in all its stark and shameful reality.