SIX months ago the first lockdown of the coronavirus was met with a kind of modern day “blitz spirit” with more than 750,000 people signing up to a call for volunteers for the NHS in just four days. As a result of the huge response, the group of vulnerable people identified as requiring support in England was expanded, with 2.5 million at risk people benefitting from the care of neighbours and strangers who recognised we were all in this together.

Such a stunning outpouring of care and service to neighbour seems to be a fading memory as so called “libertarians” queue up to question the Government’s uncertain and seemingly muddled approach to handling the second wave of the virus by asking “what about me?” or “what about my rights?” seemingly tired of the duties of neighbourly responsibility so evident six months ago.

Earlier this week the country’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Witty sought to address this issue by responding to the question as to why people can’t just be allowed to make their own individual decisions and assess their own risk when it comes to limiting activities and behaviours.

“The problem with a pandemic is that if I increase my own risk I increase the risk to everyone around me and everyone who is a contact of theirs and sooner or later the risk will reach the most vulnerable,” said Professor Whitty.

“So you cannot in an epidemic just take your own risk. Unfortunately you’re taking a risk on behalf of everyone else. This is something we have to do collectively.”

The advice represented a modern setting of Jesus’ words to “love your neighbour as yourself”. In the Gospels Jesus’ words were met by the question “Who is my neighbour?” which led to Jesus telling the story of the Good Samaritan, a story of a man robbed and left for dead who is cared for by a stranger on the road, who takes the man for treatment and promises to bear the cost.

Centuries later, in 1932, the parable became the basis for the “neighbour principle” in English law as set out by Lord Atkin in his judgment in the “snail in the bottle” case of Donoghue v. Stevenson. The case established a “duty of care” in contract law.

Over the next six months, as the second wave of Covid-19 hits, there will be many who will once again be classed as at risk and vulnerable to the virus.

Whilst before the challenge was to overcome the physical restrictions imposed by lockdown, this time round there will be a further challenge – to overcome the dissenters who will pit personal choice against our love of neighbour, of insisting on rights rather than taking responsibility for the strangers in their midst.

There are few upsides to the impact of the coronavirus, but one of them may well be the rediscovery of looking out for our those who will need our help and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

  • Arun Arora is vicar of St Nicholas Church, Durham