Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

The West has lost its moral high ground

International travellers running the gauntlet of English airports must already test negative for Covid before the flight, and on return to the UK get tested again before boarding, fill out a locator form, quarantine for ten days and test negative twice more. But that’s not enough oppression for Boris Johnson’s government. As of this week, outbound intrepids have also to fill out ‘declaration forms’ explaining why their trip is essential. Not doing so is a criminal offence.

This new hoop to jump is obnoxious on a host of levels. The declaration form came in on the very day the first few lockdown restrictions were eased, with hospitalisations and deaths dramatically down and more than a third of the adult population vaccinated. Recall how last summer’s mask mandate was levied right when infections were at their nadir. The message is clear: ‘Don’t believe for a minute this horror show is over. We’ve assumed total control over your lives down to the nittiest of gritties, and we’re not giving it up.’ According to gov.uk, we would-be passengers ‘may’ bring supporting documents to justify our wanderlust; the deliberately vague language implies that the decision to allow us to fly will rely on police caprice. Still more bureaucracy will further cripple the airline industry. And the purpose of the form-filling is intimidation. If we’re at all shaky about whether the purpose of our journey qualifies us for release from HMP UK, the intention is to frighten us out of the notion.

Whatever is not expressly permitted is forbidden – it is the state’s business whether we hold our mother’s hand

I wish this were a non-sequitur: I just finished Kai Strittmatter’s We Have Been Harmonised; Life in China’s Surveillance State. It’s a sobering read. Strittmatter notes the many ways in which the West naively or cynically plays into the Chinese Communist party’s hands, most conspicuously with the ‘betrayal of democratic values’ and a failure to live up to the West’s ‘own ideals’.

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