Recently the UK passed a pretty grim milestone: we went over 100,000 covid deaths. The UK has one of the worst death rates in the world – according to Worldometer, we are currently number five on the list (if you sort by deaths per million population).
The two most common reactions I’ve seen have been grief and anger. People are rightly grieving at the loss of life. And people are also angry at the government for allowing this to happen. I’ve seen a number of people calling for Boris Johnson to resign, for example.
This is a difficult and sensitive topic. I appreciate that many people have lost a loved one to covid. I have been fortunate: although I know a few people who have been ill with it, no-one I know has (as yet) died of it. I will come back to the issue of grieving at the end. But for now I just want to address the anger.
Should the government have done more?
People are angry because they believe the government could and should have done more to stop covid. I think it’s true that there were measures which could have been taken that would have helped. For example, there was a foolish policy during the first wave of discharging people from hospitals into care homes without testing them or providing adequate PPE for care home workers. Over the coming months, I’m sure there will be some sort of inquiry into the government’s handling of covid, and I expect many of the mistakes that were made will be brought to light.
At the same time, I think many of the things the government have done to combat covid have actually hindered rather than helped.
Lockdowns, for example. There is a growing body of evidence that lockdowns do not actually work, or at least, if they do they make a very small amount of difference for an enormous cost. In all three lockdowns that we’ve had, it looks like the rate of infection was declining before the lockdowns were imposed.
But it gets worse. Last Sunday, Peter Hitchens’ column asked “Is this really an epidemic of despair?” I think he’s onto something. I’ve known several people say they have friends or neighbours who have just faded away over this last 12 months. I can’t shake the feeling that the winter excess deaths we’ve seen may not have been caused by covid so much as the lockdown. If you isolate people from their friends, family and support networks, and prevent them from doing things which make life worth living, then surely that’s going to have an impact on their ability to fight infection.
This is something which carries some scientific weight:
Factors we found to be associated with greater risk of respiratory illnesses after virus exposure included smoking, ingesting an inadequate level of vitamin C, and chronic psychological stress. Those associated with decreased risk included social integration, social support, physical activity, adequate and efficient sleep, and moderate alcohol intake.
So people who are most likely to get seriously ill of cold and flu viruses include people with “chronic psychological stress”. I wonder whether this might include being locked in for nearly a year. Maybe getting out and seeing friends and family is good for our health and general wellbeing, and would make people more able to withstand getting covid.
My suspicion is, when all is said and done, that the government (aided and abetted by the media) will have done nothing but make things worse. Lockdowns, masks, closing down businesses, everything. Of course, at the moment we can’t know for sure.
Can the government protect from a virus?
One of the things I’ve found most striking about the past year is that the government seem to have stepped into the role of protecting us from a virus very quickly. No-one seems to have noticed anything strange about this. I wonder if it’s because we Brits tend to see the government as being responsible if there’s a problem in society. Whenever there’s an issue, ultimately we blame the government.
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that when there was a big problem – a new deadly virus – the government felt the need to step in to defend us from it. We expected it of them. We believed that it was possible to control a virus – they told us so.
I fear that this is a lesson we may have had to learn the hard way. Perhaps a virus is just something that can’t be controlled – not by human beings, anyway. Humans and governments have limited power to change things. We can’t manage our way to a perfect world. When we try to create a perfect world through government – it always goes badly wrong.
I wonder if that will be one of the biggest lessons of this pandemic – a lesson in humility. Maybe there are things which are simply out of our control.
A lesson in Godly sorrow
2 Corinthians 7:10 says:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
It’s right to grieve and feel sorrow, but even more importantly is how we grieve. Sometimes God uses events like this pandemic to bring us to our senses. Maybe part of the problem is that we have made idols of our government and safety, when we should have been trusting in the Lord.
As Psalm 118 puts it:
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.
The difficult part is, repentance involves recognising that we’ve been in the wrong. That isn’t an easy thing to do. We like to cling to our idols. We in the UK kill two covids each year in abortions (that’s over 200,000 per year). We love our sexual liberation so much, we’d be prepared to kill for it – just so long as it’s killing of a kind that society considers acceptable.
In recent years we have even considered assisted dying, for example Lord Falconer’s Bill back in 2014. Fortunately there is less public support at the moment for assisted dying – but there is still significant support for it (apparently 84% of the public support the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill adults).
It seems that we as a society only care about numbers of deaths when it’s covid deaths we’re talking about. We’re happy with the government sanctioning killing, so long as it’s the kind of killing we approve of.
We need to grieve, but – more than that – we need to search our hearts and repent.
A prayer in time of plague
Over the last few weeks in our midweek service, we’ve been using the Morning Prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer. I love the BCP because it doesn’t shy away from things like plagues. The world is seen through a Christian lens.
This is the prayer from the BCP, which is for “the time of any common Plague or Sickness”. I would suggest if we as a nation could get down on our knees and pray this prayer with all sincerity, it would do far more good than any lockdown measures the government could ever introduce.
O ALMIGHTY God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.