WE’RE all survivalists now. Mindsets and behaviours that were very recently a mark of kooks and cranks have gone mainstream, at a time when the only thing we can be certain of is that there’s more uncertainty ahead.

The line between conspiracy theorist and political commentator has blurred too. While it’s absolutely clear that wild claims around 5G have no factual foundation whatsoever – and discussing them on daytime TV only serves to spread the misinformation further – for many the UK Government’s coronavirus strategy itself looks like a conspiracy, a plot designed to sacrifice lives in the short term in order to protect the economy in the longer term.

And in the current climate, would only a conspiracy theorist believe that the Chinese Communist Party has suppressed information about the origins of the coronavirus, or would only the most naive imagine we have the full picture about what happened in Wuhan?

Look at the complete confusion around the distribution of PPE supplies to UK care homes. In the course of this week we’ve had a perfect storm of claim and counter-claim, yet somehow plenty of unanswered questions remain. Some would have you believe the suggestion retailers were operating an “England-only” policy is a Scottish nationalist conspiracy theory, despite ample evidence that the policy was in place and that firms were following instructions – or at least claimed to be following instructions – from Public Health England.

How recently so many of us scoffed at the eccentrics who stockpiled food and medicines and hinted the government might be out to get them. How easily brushed aside were concerns that apps being marketed to us as life-enhancing could be used not just to spy on us and gather data about our habits but to restrict our freedoms.

It all seemed a bit far-fetched, especially to those living in Western liberal democracies. It seemed like some of these folk were nursing irrational grudges had watched one Black Mirror episode too many, or were simply mentally ill. Maybe all of these were contributing factors.

If the government really were conspirators actively plotting against their own citizens (going a step further even than imposing benefit cuts and delays), surely this would be exposed and they would be voted out? If our Tesco Club cards were found to be being used to monitor more than our grocery-buying habits, surely someone in the know would blow the whistle and they would be scrapped?

But then the supermarket shelves were cleared of flour, tinned tomatoes, toilet rolls and paracetamol. Then letters were sent out encouraging people to agree to “do not resuscitate” orders. Then Zoom, the video conferencing app that millions had begun using to work and socialise, was found to be dangerously insecure, raising the worry that anyone in the world could have been watching in on meetings.

Right now, new technology is being developed to support the “test, trace and isolate” approach that appears to have been effective at containing the virus in other countries, and could potentially offer us a safe route out of lockdown. But as Joanna Cherry MP warned in yesterday’s National, “there is a risk that temporary restrictions on privacy could lead to a more permanent suspension of rights and liberties”. How will the data be used? We don’t know – at this point even those designing the system might not know.

Perhaps the world in which we are now living is an embodiment of that novelty office decor mantra “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”. You don’t have to be paranoid to survive the pandemic, but a daily dose of scepticism is healthy, and theories that might usually sound far-fetched should not be instantly dismissed.

Are we being told the whole truth and nothing but the truth by every politicians and public health officials? Definitely not – as evidenced by the fact that some of them are directly contradicting each other. Should we nonetheless listen to the instructions about staying at home, social distancing when outside and shielding those at highest risk? Yes, absolutely.

The danger is that questioning the actions of the UK Government, the Scottish Government or indeed any government (including those that already exert much greater control over the lives of their citizens) risks contributing to a total breakdown in trust. There is a balance to be struck between holding them to account for past decisions and scrutinising those they are taking today, tomorrow and next week.

Look up any number of articles and blog posts about “the questions the government must answer” and you’ll see questions like “should the Cheltenham Festival have gone ahead?” This is not a question that needs to be asked today, or tomorrow, or next week (and I think we all know the answer to it). The UK Government cannot turn back time and cancel the Cheltenham Festival, so shouldn’t we focus on getting answers to burning questions about current hospital capacity, triage procedures and PPE supply?

And as difficult as it might be, we’re also going to have to accept that the honest answer to many questions right now is “we don’t know”. Ultimately, only time will tell what impact any decisions made today – about lockdown, about testing, about state support – will have on the rest of our lives.

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