I have had a large correspondence from elderly people who have been horrified by suggestions in the media that one of the ways in which a lifting of the lockdown for most us might be facilitated, would be by continuing to confine the over-seventies.
I expected protests, and they have arrived. It is unsurprising given that my parliamentary seat has one of the more elderly populations compared with other constituencies.
My correspondents protest that they are fit and well, and indeed many of them fitter than their younger neighbours. They are outraged that the lockdown could be lifted for the rest of us but not them.
I believe they are they are quite right. Aside from being male, and the vulnerability arising from other underlying conditions (co-morbidities as the clinicians describe them), the principal risk-factor in making one susceptible to a particularly dangerous dose of Covid19, is being overweight.
The key measurement is ‘body mass index’ (Bmi) which is calculated -in ‘English money’ – by dividing your weight in pounds by your height in inches squared, multiplied by 703 (If that is a bit of a challenge and you’ve forgotten how to use a slide-rule, or not seen your log tables since school, then there are any number of calculators and charts available with a quick internet search).
If the result to the calculation is 24 or under, then you aren’t overweight.
So, were we to say that anyone with a Bmi over 24 were to continue in lockdown after the rest of us have been released, I imagine that there would an absolute furore. Just think how humiliating and intrusive any kind of enforcement would be: If a copper suspected you of being too fat to be out and about, would he be expected to stop you and demand that you step onto his scales, then stand still as he gets out his measuring tape?
The very idea is absurd, utterly disproportionate, and Bmi -as the designated criterion- quite arbitrary.
It is, nevertheless, no less arbitrary than a given age as the chosen criterion, be it seventy or any other. Equally, the enforcement of an age threshold would be no less intrusive: people looking too old would be stopped and asked to provide proof that they were younger. The prospect is just horrid.
I hope that, by very briefly touching on how we might differentiate between at-risk groups -for their own protection of course, when emerging from lock-down, I have also drawn attention to the enormous power that we have already placed in the hands of the state to control every aspect of life.
Media reports suggest that the public are untroubled, that my concerns are not widely shared, indeed, that a majority have a preference for stricter conditions and harsher enforcement.
Certainly, there has been no lack of zeal with which they have sought to report to me breaches of the rules by their neighbours, and I find that deeply worrying.