Coronavirus has pushed our society to the very brink of what we thought was possible. The current lockdown restrictions seemed unthinkable just a few months ago and yet now have become part of our daily reality. Despite the extension of lockdown, we know it cannot go on indefinitely. The impact on our mental health and physical wellbeing, the spiralling rates of domestic abuse and loneliness are taking a terrible toll. The public are rightly beginning to ask how and when we are going to bring about an end to this isolation.
As the Government extends this lockdown for another three weeks, we as a country need to consider what we are willing to accept in order to exit lockdown, and where we draw lines on civil liberties.
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However, as the Government considers tracking and tracing apps, they must be completely transparent about what is involved, particularly in terms of data collection. Ministers must provide cast iron legal guarantees preventing any personal data from being misused or shared beyond its stated purpose. Equally, any contact tracing app must be voluntary as opposed to enforceable. Finally, the Government must demonstrate that it has the capacity to make contact tracing and testing a success, not least by ensuring wide testing is possible. Current figures suggest that there is still a long way to go on that front.
The UK has some tough choices ahead on the trade offs between protecting public health and personal liberties. We must make them together and we must learn from what is happening in other countries. Policy must always be evidence-based, and we need transparency and accountability around that evidence, the political trade-offs and decisions that are being made on the basis of that evidence. Covid-19 will be with us for a long time and the actions that we take, willingly or unwillingly, will be with us for months to come.
Munira Wilson is the Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and party spokesperson for health and social care.