Sunday, January 17, 2021
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Fear and irrationality – the politicians’ pandemic

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IT’S good sometimes to laugh at the lunacy of Covid restrictions and those who impose them. The Two Ronnies of Doom is Richard Littlejohn’s moniker for Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer. One day we’ll say ‘And it’s goodnight from them’; the sooner the better. But it’s no laughing matter for those whose livelihoods have been and are being destroyed by unjustified state impositions on normal life, such as described by a pub manager on TCW on Friday.

Appearing before the Commons Health and Science Committee last Wednesday, Sir Patrick Vallance was asked to explain the rationale for the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants. He said it was a ‘policy decision’ designed to limit the amount of time people spent indoors together, where Covid spreads most easily (allegedly). But he conceded the intervention was not backed up with any scientific proof because curfews ‘are not something you can model with any degree of accuracy’. The inability of Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to model anything with any degree of accuracy is now legendary, so one can add this to their trophy cabinet of Covid clampdowns not supported by credible evidence.

Lacking evidence, Sir Patrick resorted to bold assertion: ‘What you can see across Europe and indeed in this country is that keeping people together longer in an indoor environment, where there’s also alcohol, is likely to increase risk.’ He said there were strong indications that hospitality settings drive transmission, but admitted ‘we can’t give specific data on that and neither can anyone else around the world’. Here is a slipperiness worthy of a senior civil servant: no specific data but ‘strong indications’ – say it quickly and no one will think to ask how it’s possible to have a strong indication without any data to support it.

Sir Patrick probably hopes no one remembers that this was not the impression given when the restrictions were first applied. When the rule of six was introduced in early September, Chris Whitty extolled Belgium as the role model for this policy. On July 29, Belgium brought in rules to reduce the number of people who could socialise together from 15 to five and introduced a 10pm curfew on the entire population. At a press conference on September 9, Whitty said that Belgium ‘took decisive action and at that point rates stabilised and started to come down.’ The press were spun a story of Belgium’s success; from 234 cases when restrictions were introduced to 194 on September 1. 

Whitty’s specific data was correct but misleading. Covid cases in Belgium rose throughout August and September. There were only two days when new case numbers were below those on July 29, September 1 being one of them. The day before Whitty praised Belgium, it had recorded 505 new Covid cases, more than double since before the curfew was introduced. But this didn’t deter Whitty; Britain’s 10pm national pub curfew came into effect on September 25, having been announced three days earlier, by which time Belgium was recording over 1,000 new cases a day.

In describing the 10pm curfew as a ‘policy decision’, Sir Patrick was trying to shift the blame for it on to the politicians who implemented it rather than the scientific advisers who undoubtedly recommended it. He was merely returning the complement that politicians have been paying him, Whitty and Sage by justifying every restriction and lockdown with reference to ‘the science’.  Despite the obvious truth – that the scientists dreamed up evidence-free restrictions and the politicians didn’t have the courage to sack them for their poor advice – they may get away with it. Certainly, the journalists at Covid press conferences won’t ask hard questions; they seem to be enjoying the media circus that the virus is creating.

As well as the Belgian experience that curfews did nothing to prevent a large increase in Covid cases, a leaked Dutch study has claimed that closing pubs and restaurants there had virtually no effect on Covid case numbers. The report by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment concludes that ‘infections cannot be linked to a sector such as the catering industry, but to the occurrence of unsafe contact moments’.  Despite ‘the science’, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he won’t be reopening bars and restaurants as hoped since ‘things are really not going well’. And France has announced a national 8pm curfew to start tomorrow. Fear and irrationality seem to be more infectious among politicians than Covid.

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Vlod Barchuk
Vlod Barchuk is a former accountant, former Tory councillor and current chairman of Ealing Central and Acton Conservative Party Association.

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