With the Omicron variant causing farcical panic levels within government and public health responses, and the introduction of lockdowns in Europe and Plan B in the UK, the length to which bureaucratic and medical institutions will hold onto the pandemic powers they’ve accrued is extensive. This isn’t so much a slippery slope as a blatant power grab as the “necessity” of emergency powers is extended to all corners of life, irrelevant of the actual health concerns that coronavirus raises. Through a combination of short-term planning and long-term incompetence, as well as a desire to avoid any form of scrutiny, governments and their biomedical authorities across the world are bolstering police powers and emergency legislation to limit rights to civil action and protest, as well as prevent legitimate speech through curtailing “disinformation”.
In the UK, the growing strength of emergency legislation and government diktat have reached a crescendo since the pandemic. “The problem wasn’t the Coronavirus Act, which had a two-year expiry date, it was an ‘emergency procedure’ in the Public Health Act that gave ministers the power to make rules simply by declaring that the matter was ‘urgent’, without consulting anyone or providing any evidence”. Both the coronavirus act and the wider public health emergency procedures have seen the UK wield huge control over everyday life, with the capacity to simply shut businesses or stop people’s movements coming in with practically no opposition or questioning. The major opposition parties (Labour, Lib Dem, SNP) have both supported government measures and demanded an increase in their scope and stringency.
“Bills are often drafted only in outline, with the important detail left to secondary legislation which can’t be amended and may become law with little or no consideration by parliament. ‘Henry VIII powers’ let ministers repeal or amend acts with little scrutiny. And now, according to a committee of the House of Lords, Whitehall is using guidance and protocols as a form of ‘disguised legislation’ — with legal effect but no oversight”. Much of these powers were introduced through the expansion of the British state during the major wars of the 20th century, allowing for the creation of a vast apparatus of policy-making and bureaucratic power with limited accountability to parliament or the wider public. Under Blair, such powers expanded through anti-terrorism legislation, with little scrutiny given to expanded detention times and increased surveillance powers that evaded court-based inspection. The lack of accountability or questioning given to such legislation set the stage for the type of actions seen today.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill being introduced by the government simply expands the very powers the state has enabled during this and the last century. “We can be banned if we have previously committed ‘protest-related offences’. Thanks to the draconian measures in the rest of the bill – many of which pre-date these amendments – it will now be difficult to attend a protest without committing an offence. Or we can be banned if we have attended or ‘contributed to’ a protest that was ‘likely to result in serious disruption’. Serious disruption, as the bill stands, could mean almost anything, including being noisy. If you post something on social media that encourages people to turn up, you could find yourself on the list. Anyone subject to one of these orders, like a paroled prisoner, might be required to present themselves to the authorities at ‘particular times on particular days’. You can also be banned from associating with particular people or ‘using the internet to facilitate or encourage’ a ‘protest-related offence’”.
Protests become the preserve of the state. If it’s favoured or supported, as in the case of certain Black Lives Matter demonstrations that somehow didn’t contravene public health measures, then they’re allowed. However, if they go against the attitudes or desires of the government or a favoured actor, then they get shutdown and participants become criminalised. This fits well within the purview of emergency COVID powers, as well as the extension of surveillance apparatuses they facilitate. Biomedical information through ID cards and apps that are to be shown on demand makes it much easier to quell protests and prevent civil action.
Similar moves are seen in the United States, where Biden’s National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism expands the definitional powers of authorities to classify certain actors or actions as terroristic. This strategy “essentially fuse(s) intelligence agencies, law enforcement, Silicon Valley, and ‘community’ and ‘faith-based’ organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, as well as unspecified foreign governments, as partners in this ‘war,’ which the strategy makes clear will rely heavily on a pre-crime orientation focused largely on what is said on social media and encrypted platforms”. Thus things like anti-vaccine opinions and protests against lockdowns get classified as terrorist actions that should be purged. Alongside anti-disinformation facilitated through social media platforms, we see a surveillance apparatus that goes beyond the realm of the state itself and into murky set of contractual relationships and power networks that avoid any real form of liability. This only expands upon the surveillance programs introduced under Bush, where the NSA and CIA contracted out powers to broadband and telephone companies, as well as using Amazon and other platform services to create a huge web of metadata for tracking every individual’s movement, as well as what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to.
Now these powers are also given to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare providers. The enactment of vaccine passports and health apps are also an extension of these very powers. The security state evolves toward the biosecurity state. In Europe, this means the capability to punish those who haven’t got the vaccine through fines, imprisonment and the curtailment of their liberties. They are effectively confined to indefinite house arrest and forced to starve as they can’t access supermarkets, are denied employment and aren’t allowed to walk the streets except for specified reasons. It also means, as in the US and UK, an increase in security measures for “democratic institutions” as well as looking at preventing the liberties of “the sect-like movement of ‘lateral thinkers‘ and other comparable groups”. In Australia and South Africa it means confinement to quarantine camps with farcical rules regarding one’s movement and actions within them.
The expansion of these powers to punish those deemed unworthy of services or liberties simply because they don’t want to take a vaccine is part and parcel of the biomedical surveillance structures that want to maintain the power they’ve accrued since the pandemic began. It’s blatant this isn’t about health and hasn’t been since the beginning. If the Omicron variant does escape vaccine coverage, then vaccine passports and boosters are completely pointless. If most cases continue to be asymptomatic and limited in their capacity to transmit, then quarantine camps and restrictions will achieve little. If vaccines were truly effective, why does it matter that a minority choose not to get them? If the problem is that hospitals are overloaded and people are missing out on treatments, why is hospital capacity not being expanded? Why have surge capacity, staff levels and bed numbers been cut since the pandemic started? These questions are unanswerable and are never asked anyway by the court jesters we call journalists.
But another question is raised by these stupid and petty rules, which is at what point do those that are harassed, restricted and bullied by state and medical authorities hit a breaking point? At what point is it said that enough is enough? Some predict that this will lead to “IRA-style insurgent civil wars”. However, I don’t think it will grow to that level of conflict. Instead it will be characterised by brutal, temporary and contingent riots and violent actions that are less controlled then the terrorist actions of an insurgent force. In South Africa, this has translated into a general distrust of medical authorities and the garrisoning of communities, splitting along lines of vaxxed and un-vaxxed. “Those who take the time to talk to the black poor and marginalised are astonished by the extent to which, scarred by their lockdown experiences, they regard the current scare as yet another means to oppress them. Curfews, liquor and tobacco bans and the outlawing of political meetings under the guise of fighting Covid-19 support their case. And, for many, the umjovo is nothing less than ubuthakathi or witchcraft”. The July unrest showed what this entailed.
In Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands it has consisted of riots, petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails. As people are forcibly isolated and controlled by unaccountable authorities, they will grab their guns and their bombs and they will lash out. Low level civil conflict of the kind that is becoming increasingly common across the world since the pandemic began, whether in the looting in Chicago and San Francisco or the clashes between protesters and police in Europe. The concerted action of peaceful protesters will have little effect in dampening the power of the biosecurity state. In the case of the UK and the US, through anti-disinformation campaigns and anti-terrorism legislation, much of this will become effectively outlawed. It may take a bullet or a bomb before politicians and medical bureaucrats realise the mistakes they are making as they continue to destroy livelihoods and fail to contain the virus.