Public hysteria and “rushed legislation” in response to Covid-19 have prioritised the quantity of life over the quality of life, says a campaign launched on Thursday.
The campaign, Recovery, which draws support from critics of the UK government’s pandemic policy, claims that the closure of businesses, cancellation of surgical operations and restriction of liberty are causing more cumulative damage than the virus itself.
Among supporters are the former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption QC, the cancer specialist and professor Karol Sikora, the concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith, the businessman Luke Johnson, the former England cricket captain David Gower and the Oxford epidemiologist and professor Sunetra Gupta.
The online launch of Recovery coincided with a legal challenge to the government’s health regulations being heard at the court of appeal. The claim has been brought by Simon Dolan, a businessman, who alleges that restrictions have been brought in illegally without the required scrutiny by parliament.
In a statement, Recovery said: “It is becoming clear that the consequences of hysteria and rushed legislation can be worse than the virus itself.”
The organisation has published a list of “five reasonable demands” to help “balance” and moderate official responses to Covid-19.
It says: “Curbing the liberty and essential freedoms of large swaths of the population, many of whom will suffer long-term consequences, is inhumane. Fear and isolation are killers in themselves.
“We are all used to balancing decisions about quality of life against quantity of life in what we do every day; we do it even when we decide to cross the road. The government has taken that out of our hands, saying that quantity of life is the absolute goal and quality of life must be destroyed to achieve it.”
Recovery calls for the government to “act with humanity”, give more NHS assistance to non-Covid patients, hold a public inquiry to stimulate a broader debate about health regulations, and not “recklessly put the jobs, livelihoods and future of the young people of this country at risk”.
Lord Sumption said at the launch of Recovery: “We need a sense of proportion and an ability to learn from our long experience of a problem that has been with humanity as long as humanity has existed.”
Herd immunity, or collective immunity, as he preferred to call it, “has been the means for humanity to survive in a world where disease is endemic … By the standards of the past centuries, Covid-19 has proved to be relatively mild.” Cholera, TB and Spanish flu had all been more deadly, Sumption said.
“Covid-19 is the thing for which politicians are most afraid to be blamed. What is unprecedented is not the virus but our response to it … This is the first time we have tried to deal with an epidemic by isolating healthy people.” He said lockdown in the long term did not suppress infection but merely delayed its spread.
Goldsmith, the music promoter, said that half the people working full time in the music industry had already lost their jobs. “Socially distanced shows don’t work emotionally,” he said, “and certainly don’t work financially.”
At the appeal court on Thursday, lawyers for Dolan told judges that Covid-19 lockdown rules were among “the most onerous restrictions to personal liberty” since the time of Oliver Cromwell almost four centuries ago.
Dolan, who according to the Sunday Times Rich List is worth £200m, is pursuing a claim against the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, over the restrictions.
Philip Havers QC, representing Dolan, said lockdown regulations had “unusually affected every person in England each day, not merely prospectively” and were “estimated to have cost the economy up to £2.5bn per day”.
Havers added: “It is of the greatest public interest that the challenge is determined by the courts at the highest level. There is a real prospect that the original lockdown, or something like it, will be reimposed in the near or very near future.”
Another national lockdown “would seem to be the inevitable consequence if the most recent measures to try to reduce the infection rate fail to do so”.
The case is being heard by the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Singh. Dolan took his case to the court of appeal after a high court judge refused permission for a full hearing of his challenge in July.
Dolan, who is pursuing his case with others, is challenging the original lockdown rules and the current restrictions, as well as the decision to close schools for most children.
He argues that the restrictions are unlawful because they are outside the government’s powers under public health legislation and are a “disproportionate breach” of human rights laws.
In written submissions, Sir James Eadie QC, barrister for the government, said the challenge was “a root-and-branch attack on the measures … at the heart of the legislative steps taken in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic to protect the public and to seek to save lives by ensuring social distancing”.
The government, Eadie added, had been “acutely aware of the impacts of the regulations and the restrictions they contain on day-to-day life”.
The hearing continues.