James Musson

March 8, 2021

Covid Rules

Today, 8th March, marks the first day of easing of the lockdown rules in England and Wales.

It's not a dramatic change. Primary schools are open again for all pupils, and (let celebrations commence) I can now exercise with one other person outside and do something recreational with that person. Like a picnic. (We have to wait until 29th March to be able to meet outside with up to five people from different households .)

If you sense a slight sarcasm in my tone, it's not because I'm dismissive of the need for lockdown. Far from it. The UK government appears to have learned the painful lessons from easing previous lockdowns too quickly, after each of which followed a resurgence in transmission of the virus. I have no desire at all to relive that once the current lockdown eases.

No, my sarcasm is more like a coping mechanism for the crazy situation – unimaginable probably even a year ago – that meeting up with a friend for a walk would be skirting the edges of criminal conduct. That for the last year, forming the mens rea to go on a walk in company with another adult could, when combined with the actus rea of actually being on the walk, result in prosecution. OK, it's not an indictable offence or anything, but when shoplifters are frequently sent on their way after being required to return the goods and with a piece of A4 paper informing them they're banned from the supermarket, a £200 fine for exercising with (shock!) two other people instead of one – it seems like madness.

Except if you consider the context of an unknown disease whose transmission vector was initially undetermined (remember when we thought we needed to sanitise every surface?), and whose prognosis could (apparently unpredictably) be death of its victim. That's how high the stakes are.

It's said that "difficult cases make bad law". Coronavirus has been one of the most difficult cases in living memory, its effects unrestricted in scope of societal position, gender, means or previous good health. Has it made bad law? We've seen police forces scrambling to rescind fines arising from circumstances that might be considered a stretch. But set against that are the fines handed out on a daily basis to individuals who have convinced themselves they're a special case and the rules shouldn't apply to them. And, above all that, the right of any person accused of a criminal offence to have their case tried in court – ultimately, if they choose, by a jury of their peers. That's the mechanism best suited to chip away at bad law and sculpt it into something which can be applied in the real world.

I say "real world". It's a very different world from a year ago. The daily rules of engagement are dramatically different. At least the government has set out its mechanism for lifting us back into the new reality. What will this brave new world be like to live in?

All we really know is that, for now, Covid rules.