Instant Opinion: Britain does not need the ‘mess of a grand Covid inquiry’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 20 July

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Clare Foges in The Times

on avoiding a long coronavirus blame game

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Spare us the mess of a grand Covid inquiry

“I cannot see the coronavirus inquiry producing outcomes as practically useful or emotionally important. Instead it will be one of those monster inquiries with an incredibly broad remit, doomed to meander on for years. A case in point (and progress): the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which stretches on and on, wading through decades of evidence across continents, industries and faiths, from ‘child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church’ to ‘the internet and child sexual abuse’ to ‘the protection of children outside the United Kingdom’... We do not need a festival of finger-pointing, millions spent, a gravy train ridden by lawyers for years, some predictable conclusions that make the news briefly in 2029, a few paltry apologies from politicians who have already written their own ‘it wasn’t me’ version of history in their memoirs. We need a pointed, practical, urgent investigation into what went wrong in the first half of 2020, with the conclusions made public, to avoid further catastrophes in the second. Independent inquiries are not the panacea some politicians make them out to be. It’s a lesson we should have learnt by now.”

2. Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph

on defending liberty in the era of coronavirus

Saying I’ll never wear a mask has put me in a pickle

“While I’ve recognised the need throughout the pandemic to pull together and think of others, what I’ve fought for throughout is the liberty to ask questions and the right to dissent. What we’ve got instead is an atmosphere in which we are told that merely obeying the rules isn’t enough: you must believe them in your heart, spy on your neighbours, clap for the NHS and be a one-man propaganda team for whatever science we happen to be following this week. When Facebook launched a campaign against ‘harmful misinformation’ about the virus, on the assumption we were too thick to sort fact from fiction, a friend sighed: ‘Oh great. So not only must we stop going out but we’ve got to suspend critical thinking, too.’ All this is completely unnecessary. Polls show overwhelming support for masks and making them compulsory; people put themselves into lockdown before the state told them to. The campaign against free thought - policed voluntarily by your friends and family - is wildly popular and, I suspect, a subconscious reaction to Trump, Brexit, riots, climate change, refugees and the whiff of anarchy that has been in the air for half a decade.”

3. Sean O’Grady in The Independent

on the PM punishing the people

Boris Johnson says it's our own fault if we face a second coronavirus lockdown – but he knows test and trace doesn’t work

“[Boris] Johnson is entitled to make his judgement and take into account the economy. A prolonged recession will cost lives, too. He seems to be a man with a taste for taking risks - whether that’s an early election, a no deal Brexit or inflating the national debt. His private life has, by all accounts, rarely been a tranquil affair. But these risks, with another widespread Covid-19 outbreak, are being taken against expert public health advice, and with other people’s lives. ‘Whack-a-mole’ is not a strategy that inspires much confidence. Worse than that, even, is that Johnson wants to evade responsibility for all this - for the decisions the he alone ultimately takes - by shoving the blame onto the British people. His talk, more like a threat, about a fresh national lockdown if there is a second national wave of infections is his way of telling us it will all be our own fault if things go horribly wrong. He compares the prospect of a second lockdown to the use of nuclear weapons, so that if ill-informed citizens make a collective error on Covid-19 they’ll be punished with another shutdown - maybe this time without such a generous furlough scheme and other business support.”

4. John Harris in The Guardian

on what type of country we want to live in

Now Britain stands at the crossroads. Will we choose dread or hope?

“As I have written a lot recently, England’s handling of the pandemic proves that its creaking, centralised system of government, full of ossified practices and institutionalised prejudice, needs to be thoroughly localised and democratised. This is the best way to safeguard against future pandemics and outbreaks. As opposed to the Johnson-Cummings model, whereby regeneration is somehow to be dropped on places from on high, it is also how new economic futures can be shaped by the people who will deliver and benefit from them. The 21st century’s digital blur means we tend to think that truly historic events are things frozen in black and white, or chronicled in epic documentaries. But make no mistake: more than any other period in most of our lifetimes, this a time of massive significance, bringing with it a sense of both crisis and opportunity. Amid constant detours and distractions, all of us need to think about the future before it hits us like a hammer. The problem with dread, after all, is that sooner or later it becomes self-fulfilling.”

5. Dr Shardha Jogee, chairperson of the University of Texas Department of Astronomy, in The New York Times

on getting children back to classes

How to Reopen the Economy Without Killing Teachers and Parents

“The Trump administration is pressing schools to provide full-time in-person classes. But schools can’t open five days a week for all students while meeting the six-foot social distancing guidelines. Many are contemplating alternating in-class and online learning. How will such a system help parents, kids and businesses get back to a normal schedule — a pressing need at a time when 51 million Americans are unemployed? There is a better way: Allow schools to offer only virtual classes this fall, and convert schools and other large unused spaces into Safe Centers for Online Learning. We could call them not schools, but ‘SCOLs.’ This is not a radical concept. Many universities are bringing some portion of their student body back to campus, but still holding classes mostly or exclusively online. Students who can keep learning at home should do so. As a result, the centers would not be crowded and it would be possible to maintain social distancing.”

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