It wasn’t about science, it was about politics. That was obvious as soon as the government began talking about following The Science as if it were a fixed body of revealed truth. Nobody who knows anything about science could say such a thing unless they were engaged in a deliberately misleading campaign of public coercion.
The sheer absurdity and pointlessness of so many of the restrictions on normal life should have given the game away: this programme was designed to frighten not to inform and to make doubt or scepticism appear morally irresponsible – which is precisely the opposite of what science does. But those of us who decried all this at the time were not just protesting at an intellectual betrayal – the dismantling of a tradition of open argument and rational debate which had created the modern world.
What was being messed with here, often it seems with breathtaking glibness, were the conditions which make life recognisably human: the intimacies and bonds that are the currency of personal relationships and emotional health. Much of this went way beyond what we generally regard as authoritarianism: even the East German Stasi did not forbid children from hugging their grandparents, or outlaw sexual relations between people who lived in different households.