The Government no longer treats its citizens like rational adults
The Government has just published yet more pandemic legislation under the catchy heading “The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021”. It runs at a mere 94 pages and outlines which day-to-day activities will be legally permitted or prohibited over the next few months.
The general public, giddy from the excitement of being legally allowed to sit on a park bench with a (non-bubbled) member of another household again, have much to look forward to: protesting will be legal again, “non-essential” retail will return, and soon we will be able to leave our homes without needing a “reasonable excuse”.
This legislation is over 40,000 words, and represents a series of legal levers to ensure that the public comply with the necessary actions, all done in the name of Public Health.
As a specialised field of medicine, Public Health is, at its best, a collaborative speciality, with a focus on communication, not coercion, which empowers individuals to make sensible, rational decisions. But the Public Health we have witnessed over the past year has been far from its best. Much like a bad doctor believing the problem with medicine is the patients, it is hard to shake the feeling that for many of those in power, the problem with Public Health is the public. Gone are the days when employing the police in a Public Health campaign would be seen as a failure of policy and communication — it is now seen as a necessary requirement.
The public are no longer viewed as rational adults, capable of having the risks and benefits of actions explained to them, and permitted the agency to make their own choices. They are treated like children, to be cajoled and coerced into making the “correct” decisions. This extends not only to the legislation, but to much of the public messaging — fear, shame and guilt abounds.
Little allowance is given for human needs. For those living in house shares, for example, sex with non-cohabiting partners has been legally prohibited for months. And while the onus throughout this period has been on those who break laws, the same consideration has not been given to more positive interventions, such as ensuring people have adequate sick pay, enabling them to quarantine effectively, or in getting sufficient supplies of PPE to reduce infection rates.
Working against the public, and treating human nature as an inconvenience that must be threatened with punishment, is the antithesis of Public Health and modern medicine.
It may be tempting to argue that in this time of crisis, particularly involving a communicable disease, the end justifies the means. But considering that this week marks a year since the first lockdown began — a year in which the minutiae of daily life have been rendered legal or illegal with the sweep of a pen — this cannot continue indefinitely. It is time for the Government to recognise this fact and start collaborating with the public instead of criminalising them.