Time to Move on From Focused Protection

There follows a guest post from Steve Sieff, creator of GreenBandRedBand.com.

In June 2020 I launched GreenBandRedBand.com. It is a type of what came to be called focused protection. My system proposed a way of people communicating to others if they wanted to be protected from coronavirus or if they were content to run the risk of contracting the virus. Those who were prepared to take the risk would show others how they felt by wearing a green wrist band or some other garment to communicate their position. Those who wanted to be protected but didn’t want to shield at home would wear a red equivalent. Around those requiring protection it was envisaged that all of us would respectfully adopt the measures that were being recommended to help stop the spread of the virus. Although that would still have been disruptive and unwelcome, it would have been far more palatable than being obliged to take measures around those who did not require them, and infinitely more so than laws which criminalised social interaction. So the system seemed to me to strike the right balance between retaining our personal freedoms and respecting the rights and wishes of others.

I’ll take this opportunity to express my thanks to the large numbers of Lockdown Sceptics readers who contacted me to express their support or who purchased bands and to the editorial team for featuring the site on a number of occasions.

A year down the line LS highlighted a Guardian article reporting on a ‘variant’ of my system being used in some places in the U.S., and other readers may recall Freddie Sayers in UnHerd discussing something similar. You might assume that I would welcome news that a similar system is getting some mainstream attention at last.

But times have moved on and in June 2021 I have slightly mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it is great to see that people are realising that they can manage themselves by communicating with each other rather than needing the Government to micromanage their lives. That should have happened from the outset. On the other hand, in places where the vaccines are available to the vulnerable, there is a strong argument that the time for this system is coming to an end because everyone should be ‘green’.

I proposed the system as an alternative to lockdown and restrictions and to recognise that people would rebound from the fear messaging at different rates. It was designed to be sustainable while large numbers of vulnerable people remained. But it was not envisaged to be permanent. As the numbers of vulnerable reduce, so does the need for specific measures to cater for that vulnerability. There comes a point where the position has moved to the extent that it is no longer kind or helpful to continue to indulge fear. Indeed by continuing to do so one risks perpetuating fear unnecessarily.

When GreenBandRedBand.com was conceived, vaccines seemed a long way off. But a year later they are a reality and the rollout in some parts of the world has been rapid. It may be that we manage to improve their efficacy or that we develop more treatments for people who do contract the virus but essentially the vaccines are our best effort. People who are worried about being vulnerable – or who are actually vulnerable – aren’t going to get a better offer than vaccination. So if you aren’t ready to stop asking for protection after vaccination is available to you then it starts to look like you will never be able to be comfortable with normal social interaction. Or in the terms of my system, you absolutely don’t have to be vaccinated to choose green, but if you were red before and being vaccinated isn’t enough to make you choose green, then what will?

I understand that there will always be a significant number of vulnerable people who remain vulnerable – either because they can’t be vaccinated or because the vaccines are not fully effective. The argument from that is that everyone else should continue with protective steps until we have more effective vaccines, or better treatments, or more vaccines taken by other people to achieve a prevalence as close to zero as we can get. On a personal level I am happy to moderate my behaviour around those who remain vulnerable if it makes them safer. I am happy to show them that respect. But after we all fundamentally altered the way we live for more than a year in the interests of protecting the vulnerable, and as those numbers decline, I don’t think that protecting the minority should continue to dominate how the majority conduct their lives.

In a sense this is where the anti-lockdown and anti-woke aspects of LS come together. I think of it as the contrast between levelling up and levelling down. The first is positive, the second not. Levelling up means giving as many people as possible the opportunity to participate fully in society. Sometimes that can be done easily but at other times it means taking steps which are expensive or inconvenient and which benefit relatively few. The desire to do that may be a sign of a compassionate and caring society. But we must be very wary of turning that positive impulse to ‘level up’ into an attitude where we become so fearful of inequality that we prevent people from doing things that they are able to do simply because others cannot. Or where our efforts to provide a small benefit are outweighed by the large harms those efforts produce.

Much of the world is still grappling with lockdowns and with securing and distributing supplies of vaccine. GreenBandRedBand.com remains available for those who still need to find a way to protect their vulnerable without crippling their society. For the more fortunate parts of the world – those where vaccines and treatments are available – it should be time to move on.

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