Clearly, the long-term effects of coronavirus need research, and those suffering from them need help. But these long-term effects also need to be seen in perspective. Long Covid is only unique insofar as it has been named and advertised as such. A post-viral syndrome can follow many types of viral infection, from the common cold to influenza and pneumonia. Yet no one has compiled and publicised data sets for those suffering from such a syndrome, let alone anointed it Long Flu or Long Cold.
My 30 years of working in academic environments, as both a scientist and a clinical academic, tell me this: a scientist’s career objective is to big up his subject, which increases his personal likelihood of gaining grants, influence and promotion. Scientists focus on narrow topics, often almost to the exclusion of everything else. Perspective is rarely a strong point. The more their subject is in the public eye, preferably centre stage, the better it is from a career point of view. Any crisis is, I’m afraid, a career opportunity for some. Unbiased, agenda-free, selfless public service is not, I believe, a key feature of academic life, nor is there any real reason to expect it to be.
The management of the Covid ‘crisis’ – a crisis substantially caused by the very management itself – has all the hallmarks of government being advised by a group of experts in the limelight, in thrall to groupthink, and with far too cosy a consensus to do effective science.
The great 20th-century pandemics, comparable in so many ways to their 21st-century heir, accounted for myriad private tragedies. Yet, unlike this novel coronavirus, their public, political significance was negligible. They were treated as public-health challenges, problems for clinicians, virologists and epidemiologists. And there were arguments at the time that more should have been done to mitigate their harm. But there was no sense of a world ending. No talk of a new normal. No attempt, that is, to reorganise the entirety of societal life around the threat they posed.
- Some experts argued that masks would help slow the infection rate.
- Others pointed out that improper use of face masks can amplify risks, for instance by acting as a reservoir for virus particles.
- It seems that today’s mantra of ‘listen to the science’ is not as straightforward as it seems.
- Claims to wear masks are untested and unchallenged, then elevated to the status of ‘the science’.
- The hasty assembling of research articles in support of a policy position is not science. This is as likely to be to be dangerously misleading as it is to yield even negligible benefits.
- Scientific controversy in the 21st century is settled by institutional weight and muscle, not by experiment.
- The president of the Royal Society wants to have his cake and eat it: he wants the government to defer to institutional science, but not for science to be accountable for this influence.
- The government, weakened by its capitulations to breakfast TV anchors, politically motivated scientists and scientific institutions, may find itself unable to roll back policies which turn out to do more harm than good.
The really concerning thing is that if all the deaths taking place during lockdown are put down as Covid-19 deaths, we are going to miss the fact that the lockdown policies have caused an increase in deaths from many other things. There has been a 50 per cent reduction in people turning up to A&E. It is clear that people just do not want to bother the doctors. And a number of these people will be dying. If we muddle the Covid-19 statistics in with the other statistics, we might think the lockdown has prevented a certain number of deaths, when it has actually caused a large number of deaths.
You hear this idea that all NHS staff have been working 20 times as hard as they have ever done. This is complete nonsense. An awful lot of people have been standing around wondering what the hell to do with themselves. A&E has never been so quiet.
The chances of children dying from COVID-19:
How many people aged 15 or under have died of Covid-19? Four. The chance of dying from a lightning strike is one in 700,000. The chance of dying of Covid-19 in that age group is one in 3.5million. And we locked them all down. Even among the 15- to 44-year-olds, the death rate is very low and the vast majority of deaths have been people who had significant underlying health conditions. We locked them down as well. We locked down the population that had virtually zero risk of getting any serious problems from the disease, and then spread it wildly among the highly vulnerable age group.
It is not clear that getting the virus actually makes you immune to it in the future, and it is not clear a vaccine would either.
And yet the government and the media perpetuate the fiction that lockdown is still in place.
With lockdown at an effective end, this foolish belief will only do us damage. The UK’s GDP is estimated to have fallen by two per cent in the first quarter of 2020. Other factors are inevitably at play, but the first quarter only includes the first week of lockdown. What effect will the past seven weeks of lockdown have on the economy in the second quarter?
In all of this, I could be wrong. Instituting the widest expansion of the state since 9/11, while suspending the boundaries of political power, quarantining healthy people and enacting a controlled demolition of our economy, might turn out to have been the ‘safest’ response to the pandemic. But my instincts, as well as a growing number of epidemiologists, virologists, economists, historians and journalists, tell me otherwise.
I can’t clap for the NHS because of a truth that all NHS staff come to learn – that the NHS runs only by exploiting its workers.
This unaccountability is not limited to hospital management. The failures of procurement departments and of Public Health England during this crisis are by now well-documented. As for how much time and money is wasted by countless other NHS bodies – including (but not limited to) NHS Digital, NHS Resolution and NHS Business Services Authority – I can only guess. No one seems interested in holding these bodies to account, either.
Covid conformism must be confronted. In their echo chambers, where they’re all trying to outdo each other in their levels of commitment to smashing Covid, the political and media elites have become increasingly blinkered, dogmatic and intolerant on everything related to Covid-19. The lack of relaxed, freely stated opposition to their lockdown mania means they become madder and madder in their commitment to it. The corrosion of freedom of thought in relation to Covid-19 has deadly consequences, because it means the lockdown endures – nine weeks now – when many people know in their heart of hearts that it is wrong and deeply damaging to the future of this country.
[M]any of these measures were not included in the government’s initial decree for phase two of the easing. Many of these changes are due to pressure applied by the public and civil society.
It was striking that one of the first changes was made after pressure from what is traditionally one of the most conservative sections of Italian society: the Catholic Church…Some brave priests were violating the lockdown.
Officially, the [lockdown] process has been led by experts. The government has created various committees of more than 450 experts to guide its coronavirus policies. These include a taskforce established on 10 April of economists, scientists, managers and psychologists to help the government navigate the path out of lockdown.
Economic hardship was undoubtedly a major factor compelling people to protest….Lots of Italians are angry because they can see there is no rationale or fairness in the way the government has chosen to ease the lockdown.
Only a truly democratic government, which draws its authority from the people, has a chance of dealing effectively with Covid-19 and the emerging social and economic crisis.
It is hard to know where to start with transport. One certainly shouldn’t start from home, if at all possible. In our age of lockdown, transport away from the home is considered anti-social, if not downright dangerous.
In this atmosphere, it is worth recalling that democratic rights relate not just to free speech, but also to freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. Some restrictions on travel have been lifted recently. But with every new official statement about how we can and cannot move around, the government confirms that the state and only the state holds the cards in relation to our basic freedoms.
‘Evidence’ has been turned into a gospel truth and that’s bad for political decision-making.
Shockingly, the UK government was not alone in pushing the crisis into care homes. In New York, the centre of the world’s worst outbreak, it is a similar story. Care homes were not only neglected for PPE and testing, but were also ordered to take in Covid patients. Homes could be fined $10,000 or lose their operating licence if they refused to comply with the rules. In Lombardy, the hardest-hit region of Italy, care homes were paid extra to take in Covid patients from hospitals.
The carnage in care homes ought to be the biggest scandal of the Covid crisis.
This level of social distancing cannot go on indefinitely. It will break down, more than it already has. As much as people tell the pollsters that, if anything, the current regime is too soft-touch, many are already bending if not breaking the rules on meeting friends and family, weighing the risks, being careful, and deciding for themselves. And it’s not just among the supposedly selfish young, either. Older people want to see their kids and grandkids and to make the most of the time they have left.
The media in this country have no shame. For two months they’ve been ramping up fear and hysteria over Covid-19. They predicted apocalypse. They reported the daily death tolls like gleeful grim reapers.
And now, after all that, after pumping out 24-hour rolling doom for weeks on end, they have the gall to wonder why so many people have been too scared to visit a hospital during the pandemic. And why there has been a huge number of excess deaths from treatable ailments other than Covid-19. And why there was a policy of ‘Protecting the NHS’ at all costs from the coming viral calamity that involved sending even infected elderly people away from hospitals and back to care homes. ‘How could this happen?’, they cry.
It is now the left that wants working people to be decommissioned, put out to pasture, languishing on state-paid wages or Universal Credit and uncertain of whether their job will even exist once the lockdown is finally lifted. And it’s the Tories saying: ‘Erm, don’t you think it would be better if working people worked?’
Of course, the left’s justification for its new policy of preventing the working classes from working is that they might catch Covid-19 and die. They’re ramping up the culture of fear in a desperate effort to present their bizarre, historically unprecedented anti-work outlook as a good, noble thing. Actual facts – like the fact that under-40s have made up just 0.75 per cent of deaths from Covid – don’t get so much as a look-in. No, keep all workers at home, even the fit, healthy young ones.
I have not seen the police like this before. Sure, I’ve seen police heavy-handedness; I’ve actually encountered it, on demonstrations many years ago. I’ve seen police harassing homeless people for no good reason. I’ve seen the over-policing of certain streets and certain communities and seen how dispiriting people find it. But this arrogant, sneering barking of orders at sunbathers and mums and homeless people resting under trees on a warm day is completely new. It is lockdown fanaticism in action. This rude and heartless officiousness is the logical conclusion of the culture of hysteria our political and media elites have whipped up over Covid-19.
It is time to draw a line. In the fight against Covid-19, people across the world have been required to suspend many hard-won freedoms – to give up travel, loved ones, places of worship, the pub. They have gone along with it because they understand that some temporary restrictions on liberty are sometimes needed in times of crisis (even though we must ensure they do not become permanent). But one thing we cannot give an inch on is freedom of speech, our right to speak and our right to hear others, which is under serious threat right now.
The Covid threat is not the apocalypse we were warned about. Its death rate is low. Its impact on younger people is negligent. Just 0.75 per cent of deaths in the UK have been among under-40s, and the majority of those were people with underlying health conditions. And yet most under-40s – fit, healthy workers – remain locked at home, denied the right to work and play and keep society going.
The horror stories that were spread about Covid-19 by government officials and media fearmongers have been exposed as inaccurate, and in some cases hysterical. As the government adviser Professor Robert Dingwall says, the government has ‘effectively terrorised’ us into ‘believing that this is a disease that is going to kill you’. When in the vast majority of cases that simply isn’t true. As Professor Dingwall points out, 80 per cent of people who get the virus never have to go to a hospital, and of those who do, ‘most of them will come out alive – even those who go into intensive care’.
Lionel Shriver and Brendan O’Neill discuss the irrational response to Covid-19 and the cruel regime of social distancing.