Draconian measures, police powers and encouraging commerce were the Covid 19 issues debated by columnists in the newspapers yesterday.

The Daily Mail

Dominic Lawson said the Government’s Covid strategy was to ensure little disruption to business and schools and to let our social lives take the strain.

“The Government is now introducing what some describe as ‘draconian measures’ to ensure the public observes self-isolation rules (when quarantine is required): fines of up to £10,000 are to be imposed on the most heinous offenders, apparently,” he said. “But if you look at the Government’s website on rules mandating self-isolation for those returning from trips to nations with high infection rates, you will find that the list of ‘exceptions’ covering various jobs goes on for paragraph after paragraph.”

He said that Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, complained that the rule of six and its subsequent enforcement was simply creating animosity between the public and police.

“The truth is that these rules — designed to stop the rate of coronavirus infection climbing to the levels now seen in France and Spain — will fundamentally rest on individual decisions, not enforcement,” he said. “If people are worried about infection, they will react accordingly: thus the restaurant trade had collapsed even before the Government imposed lockdown on March 23.”

He said it was sad that socialising had to be constrained by rules which seemed so arbitrary and asked ‘why six exactly?’

“But if this form of contagion containment does not prevent the economy from continuing its strong recovery, then it’s endurable.”

The Guardian

John Harris said the effectiveness of the new rule of six was open to question, given that schools are back, people are being encouraged to work and restaurants are open.

“Then there is the biggest issue of all: the fact that breaking the rule is a criminal offence,” he said. “ Now, there are to be fines of up to £10,000 for people judged to have breached self-isolation rules, and the police will be checking compliance in the “highest incidence areas” and “high-risk groups”, based on “local intelligence”.

He said rising concerns about power, the state and people’s basic rights clearly belonged in the mainstream.

“The Covid-19 crisis has given rise to an awful imbalance: the state increasing its power to sow mistrust and punish, while failing on the more nurturing and protective responsibilities that are a much better answer to the pandemic,” he added. “Lockdowns, clampdowns and the long arm of the law are not a sustainable answer to the crisis we face: more terrifyingly still, they point to a future in which power might decisively slip free of any meaningful constraints.”

He argued that there should be no arguing about the the ‘awful reality’ of the pandemic, its threat to public health, or the fact that we should all be doing our bit.

“What we should be arguing about is whether bulldozing basic civil liberties is any kind of answer to the crisis, and where exactly that approach is already leading us,” he concluded.

The Daily Express

Leo McKinstry said the country was staring down the barrel of another coronavirus crisis.

“In the coming weeks the Government will face its sternest test by far,” he said. “The extraordinary circumstances of the moment call for robust, decisive leadership, based on a clear strategy, administrative competence and honesty with the public.”

He said those qualities had been sadly lacking in the Government’s Covid response so far.

“Within the Conservative party there is growing concern at Boris Johnson’s performance,” he claimed. “MPs privately mutter that he has still not recovered from his own Covid ordeal, with the result that he has lost some of his instinctive ebullience and natural authority.”

He said, however, that the swell of infections in Europe had not produced a rise in deaths.

“The daily fatality rate, averaging just 11 recently, is a tiny fraction of both the spring peak and the 1,600 deaths that occur every day,” he said. “Whitehall might be terrified of a “second wave”, but the damage from a second lockdown would be as frightening.

“The impact would see as many as 30,000 extra cancer deaths because of deferred treatment, as well as a surge in other problems like heart disease and mental illness.

A second lockdown would plunge our fragile economy, which is just beginning to enjoy a recovery, into another recession, perhaps even worse than the record-breaking contraction inflicted by the first.