13:18, November 01 104 0 theguardian.com

2020-11-01 13:18:03
Coronavirus laws and the difficult balance of personal freedoms

Jonathan Sumption (Hysteria and rushed laws ‘more harmful than Covid’, say campaigners, 29 October) said in his lecture last week that people have been “terrorised into surrendering basic freedoms which are fundamental to our existence” and that he regrets that the government does not heed Sage’s advice that citizens “should be treated as rational actors, capable of taking decisions for themselves and managing personal risk”.

As a former supreme court justice, surely he knows that our personal freedoms are rightly constrained by the imperative that they do not harm others. We are not allowed to drink and drive; most people who do this judge themselves not to be a risk. Science shows that they are wrong.

The tragedy of this virus is that it pits our freedom to socialise, not to risk our mental health or our jobs against the freedom of others not to have their lives and jobs put at risk. There is no good solution, only a balance that we should not see as an entitlement, but accept with regret and compassion.

To balance all these factors would require a government that was competent, well-informed, compassionate, willing to admit failure and trustworthy about being fair – one that treated us as adults and involved us, and was seen to have our best interests at heart. Then we could make a free decision to follow the rules; we would not need to be terrorised.

This government has failed on all counts. It treats us as children and we behave as such.

Ellen van der Bij


Jonathan Sumption believes future generations will consider the UK’s response to Covid as “collective hysteria and governmental folly”. Another prediction is that future generations will marvel at the remarkable collective unity that the world achieved to meet this health challenge. The world has come together to protect the lives of the vulnerable, sacrificing collective freedoms and financial gain for the health of all. This isn’t folly, but rather reflects one of humanity’s greatest aspirations – to care for one another.

Dr Robin Murphy


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