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From Argentina to Romania, a lesson from history

Politicians beware as the public awakens from its Covid dream state.

The 1989 Romanian Revolution.
Romania, 1989.

A month ago, Kier Starmer found himself bundled into a Westminster police car to protect him from rowdy anti-Covid protestors, a story told from different angles and for various reasons at the time.

From a Labour Party leader that has been repeatedly criticised from the Left and Right to a millionaire footballer kicking a cat (West Ham Defender Kurt Zouma) as well as the shock Russian invasion of Ukraine, the post-pandemic mainstream and social media have been awash recently with stories further shaking a jittery nation still emerging from a lockdown dream state.

And this is before public attention has had an opportunity to focus on Covid-19 infection numbers rising across Europe, as two variants of the virus (Omicron BA.2 and Deltacron), work their way through local populations.

Ukraine halted this potential ‘next crisis’ by replacing it with an actual crisis, in the process temporising a sense of public fatigue and frustration with a political elite that has, over the past two years, committed to baked-in lockdown policy mistakes while living high on the money-printing hog.

This Covid-19 dream state came to an end in the UK on 24 February, after the British government replaced all previous restrictions with its ‘Living with Covid’ strategy.

Recent crises have drawn attention away from the disastrous effect of Covid-19 lockdowns on British life and, subsequently, have distracted politicians from focusing on what can happen when such dream states can suddenly end.

The change in UK Covid-19 policy came despite rocketing infection and hospital admittance numbers in such countries as China/Hong Kong, Australia and the UK. Despite this, it appears to be followed, or is about to be followed, in France, Germany (where individual states are being less enthusiastic about lifting restrictions than the federal government) and even - whisper it - in Italy.

What happens in these countries as the national policy changes may reflect the UK experience (which has been largely accepting of the change in direction), or it may be responded to more chaotically. Whatever the immediate public reaction, those perceived to have misled the public and abused their positions of power during the past two years may find that they quickly lose control as the Covid-19 dream state ends and people are given back their freedom.

In terms of those politicians still in power today, compared to when the initial lockdowns were introduced - notably Boris Johnson and Emanuel Macron - all are facing domestic political challenges (Johnson, obviously) or are about to (Macron in the upcoming French presidential election). But, political personalities aside, each national government attempting to implement a sudden change in Covid-19 policy may still find that they come under unpredictable pressure because of what they have done to their citizens since 2020.

The UK Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, recently gave an insight into how the political and medical establishment in the UK may be attempting to transition from its previous authoritarian mode during the Covid-19 dream state.

Speaking at a virtual conference organised by the Association of Directors of Public Health last month, Whitty warned of a significant worsening in childhood obesity as a result of the lockdown measures the British government introduced in 2020.

Whitty also warned at the conference of the long-term risk of a host of deadly conditions, such as strokes and heart attacks, for vulnerable children when they reach adulthood. Indeed, the latest figures show that 28 per cent of children in England are now overweight or obese by the time they start primary school (an increase from 23 per cent before the pandemic began).

“We really need to make sure that whatever policies we bring forward are going to have their biggest effect in the areas which are most affected by this, because the long-term effects are going to be very considerable,” Whitty stated during the conference.

“Obesity has effects on health which you wouldn’t necessarily predict. Some things are obvious, like the significant increase in risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, but also cancers, particularly hormone-driven cancers, and also infectious diseases, of which Covid was the most recent.”

“There is a very strong gradient where people who are at the higher end of the obesity spectrum have significantly worse outcomes.”