Boris Johnson announced lockdown conditions for Britain in a televised address on Monday of this week.
He said that people should stay in their homes and only leave for “very limited purposes”.
These are to buy essentials, to get medicines, support a vulnerable person or to exercise once a day.
Shops deemed “non-essential” will be closed.
And public gatherings of more than two people will be banned—with cops having new powers to enforce this.
In measures that were set to be passed on Thursday, police will be able to fine people deemed to be breaking the rules and to disperse gatherings.
Johnson’s announcement was another serious escalation of the government response to coronavirus. It followed days of the mainstream media issuing denunciations of ordinary people’s lack of social distancing.
Social distancing is crucial to slow the spread of the disease. But Johnson’s plans aren’t enough to keep people safe and supported—and they hold real dangers.
Several bosses initially responded to Johnson’s announcement with defiant messages promising to stay open.
For many people, their safety depends largely on the whims of their employers.
And is it surprising that workers still feel pressured to work when many fear losing pay or their jobs otherwise?
Ordinary people in London were attacked for getting onto crowded Tube trains on Monday and Tuesday. But nobody chooses to travel on a packed train. The real problem is that services were cut back—meaning key workers and others pressured to work suffered crammed trains.
How are poor people supposed to follow social distancing advice when it could mean them running out of food to feed their children?
How can others “stay at home” when they have no home?
The Tories are appealing to us to follow the advice better, as though we are too stupid to understand how serious the crisis is.
But if they really wanted to tackle coronavirus, they could bring in several measures immediately that would make a real difference. They could implement mass testing for coronavirus, make sure the NHS has all the funds and equipment it needs, and suspend rents and mortgages for ordinary people.
They could halt energy and council tax bills.
They could take postal workers up on their offer of becoming an essential service and announce weekly deliveries of essentials to every household.
They could guarantee every worker’s full wages—including zero hours, temporary and self-employed workers—so that no one felt they had to keep on going to work.
All of those things would make it much easier for people to stay at home and stay safer.
Instead the Tories are focusing on punishing ordinary people and scapegoating them for a crisis they have helped to create. What we really need is a political solution.
Cop powers won’t help
Police already do not use their powers against everyone equally. They target working class, poor, vulnerable and black and Asian people.
In France, similar laws to those Johnson announced this week saw the cops mainly target migrants and homeless people for fines.
Homeless charities said they had had reports of cases in Paris, Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and Bayonne.
Maud Bigot from a Lyon charity said, “People are terrified, because the police have told them they will be fined if they don’t find shelter.” Governments often bring in “temporary” repressive measures that remain once the emergency is over.
Johnson’s announcement quickly led to some calling for even more powers and resources for the cops.
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said, “If you compare us to Italy, we have about half the number of police officers.
“We don’t have a paramilitary police force like the Carabinieri.”
We do not need a paramilitary police force. We need more resources for the NHS and more measures to support ordinary people.