Sceptics haunted by spectre of second lockdown

Locked down and loaded: Yesterday Boris Johnson launched tough new laws for England

Do lockdowns cause more harm than good? Without a vaccine, they might be our most effective tool for tackling Covid-19 – but some argue that shutting down society comes at too high a cost.

A week ago, the UK government trumpeted a return to normal. School gates were flung open; office workers were cajoled into returning to city centres.

Then yesterday, following the largest increase in new coronavirus cases since May, a crackdown was announced.

Starting next Monday, social gatherings in England are restricted to six people, both indoors and outdoors. Failure to comply could mean a fine of up to £3,200.

With these new restrictions, the British government has conjured up the spectre of an eventual second lockdown. In doing so, it rekindled an argument smouldering across the globe.

On the one side are the sceptics, passionate in their belief that lockdown does more harm than good.

Opposing them are the believers, who say with equal vehemence that lockdown is an essential measure to combat a deadly plague.

For the sceptics, further risks are worth taking. The first wave of lockdown has already devastated economies, leading to tens of millions of job losses worldwide.

The angry sceptics believe lockdowns constrain our freedom. And for them, the principle of freedom is virtually as important as life itself. Some are even asking whether democracies are on a slippery slope to tyranny

What about happiness? Studies have shown that socialising is the most important stimulant for human contentment.

The charity Mind has already declared the pandemic “a mental health emergency”. Isolating people in lockdown, especially the most vulnerable, has led to a rise in depression.

For lockdown believers, however, such arguments are of little consequence in comparison to the potential loss of lives.

Fighting the virus should be our shared aim, and, at present, lockdown is the most effective weapon against it.

It's not just about dealing with the virus. By reducing the number of Covid-19 cases, lockdown frees up health services for use against other dangerous ailments.

According to Charles Darwin, the species that survives “is the one that is most adaptable to change”. Rather than adapting to a transformed world, are lockdown sceptics lowering humanity’s chances of survival?

So, do lockdowns cause more harm than good?


Undoubtedly, say the sceptics. Locking down both society and the economy is a disproportionate reaction to Covid-19, as most sufferers recover from the disease. For the sake of our freedom, prosperity and mental wellbeing, we need to stop living in fear. There may be risks, upsets and even deaths, but these are part of life — and learning to deal with them might make us stronger.

Not a chance, believers respond. All lives are valuable, and their protection should be our paramount aim. The risks to health and happiness incurred by lockdown are outweighed by the fatal danger that Covid-19 poses. Until a vaccine allows us to overcome Covid-19, adapting our behaviour is a necessary sacrifice — and one that might facilitate a faster return to normal.

You Decide

  1. Are mental health and physical health equally important?
  2. Is adapting to change always a good thing?


  1. Choose three of your relationships with other people, and write a paragraph on why you value each one — and how you would feel if they were snatched away.
  2. Select a recent news story, and highlight any areas that inspire your scepticism. Explain your choice, and allow the class to discuss whether they agree or disagree with you.

Some People Say...

“The secret of happiness is not found in seeking more but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”

Socrates (c. c. 470 – 399 BC), ancient Greek philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented significant challenges to human happiness, increasing many pre-existing anxieties around health and financial security. Although the degree to which lockdown policies in particular have caused unhappiness is still to be accessed, psychologists have long identified social and physical activity as significant drivers of happiness, both of which are restricted under most lockdown regulations.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate concerns the nature of the world after Covid-19. For decades, many thinkers believed that human existence was improving. Statistics showed quality of life moving steadily upwards. But perhaps the pandemic is a turning point for our species. Alongside climate change, falling life expectancies and much more besides, the disease could be a herald of our decline. The privations of lockdown might just be the beginning of a long journey downward.

Word Watch

Persuaded by coaxing or flattery. It comes from a medieval French world meaning “chatter like a jay”.
Literally a “frightening ghost” but often used to describe dormant or emerging concepts. The Communist Manifesto, for instance, begins with “the spectre of communism hovering over Europe”.
Those who doubt commonly accepted opinions – named after the “skeptic” philosophers of Ancient Greece.
Forcefulness of feeling of expression, derived from Latin words meaning “too little” and “judgement”.
Slippery slope
An often disputed idea in philosophy in which a small step can lead to a chain of related events, with enormous negative consequences.
Cruel and aggressive use of power, often used to describe countries under the grip of a single oppressive leader.
Founded in 1946, one of Britain’s leading charities for mental health.
Extreme sadness and dejection, now recognised as a serious mental health problem.
Charles Darwin
The 19th-century naturalist (1809-1882), best known for his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, containing his theories of evolution and natural selection.
Capable of of modifying or adjusting. Modern biologists see humans as the most adaptable of all animal species.


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