‘We all have to be responsible for the fact that our health touches upon those who we sit next to and who we share air with. And this is a public health truism that is self-evident,’ said health minister Lord Bethell, answering a question about mandating vaccine passports in nightclubs in the House of Lords. Yet according to Brunel University Physicist Dr Colin Axon, medics (and presumably Lords) have a ‘cartoonish’ understanding of how tiny particles travel through the air.
There is a political war on breathing — the very thing that keeps us all alive. And Bethell is not alone. Dr Sarah Jarvis recently told Jeremy Vine, ‘Breathing is an offensive weapon if you are infected with Covid.’ Even allowing for a bit of dramatic licence on TV, it is impossible to imagine someone saying that pre-Covid. Of course, breath is life itself. Meditational and spiritual practices involve breath-work, famously the Vipassana. God breathed life into Adam, and Saint Paul said ‘all scripture is breathed out by God’. Breath has fallen from sacred to sinful.
Epidemics unsettle our political compasses. It’s known that fear induces a desire for authoritarian control. Humans crave security during chaos. In fact, authoritarian governments are more likely to emerge in regions characterised by a high prevalence of disease-causing pathogens. This epidemic has also thrown our moral compass. One study found that during Covid ‘health-minded approaches have been moralised, even to the point of a sacred value’ and that ‘merely questioning sacred values led to moral cleansing’. Defending lockdowns and restrictions was seen as moral, and questioning them seen as immoral.
Morality has been generally topsy-turvy in a time riven by fear. We have no tolerance for Covid deaths but seemingly little interest in deaths from other causes.