Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Home COVID-19 How irrational fear of Covid was stoked by ministers and media

How irrational fear of Covid was stoked by ministers and media

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OPINION polls since the Covid crisis struck have been unduly supportive of lockdown to the constant surprise and dismay of sceptics like me. It’s the narrative that’s encouraged and ‘justified’ the government in their restrictive and coercive policies through to this latest lockdown.

A fairly recent Opinium poll reported a ratio of about 2:1 who feel we need strong measures in place because Covid-19 ‘threatens a large number of lives’. Similarly, a huge 78 per cent in YouGov’s snap poll on September 23 supported the 10pm lockdown measures in England while only 15 per cent opposed them.

These polls, which the ayatollahs of Sage must love, reveal a public mood that is broadly one of fear and thus of support for lockdown. It’s been troubling for any sceptics. But they also raise a big question. Why has no one bothered to find out what this fear is based on – fact or fiction?  Why had none of those polls explored the basis on which people were prepared to pay the huge lockdown premium?

The only research I found to have explored this was a Franklin Templeton-Gallup research project, conducted in the United States towards the end of last July, on the behavioural response to the pandemic. What did it discover? Yes, you have it: ‘A gross misperception of Covid-19 risk, driven by partisanship and misinformation.’ 

It found that six months into the pandemic, Americans still dramatically misunderstood (exaggerated) the risk of dying from Covid-19:

·       On average, they believed that people aged 55 and older account for just over half of total Covid-19 deaths – the actual figure is 92 per cent;

·       They believed that people aged 44 and younger account for about 30 per cent of total deaths – the actual figure is 2.7 per cent;

·       They overestimated the risk of death from Covid-19 for people aged 24 and younger by a factor of 50.

Yet mortality data from the start showed that deaths were overwhelmingly concentrated in people who are older and suffer comorbidities. 

We decided to find out whether similar misperceptions and exaggerated understandings of risk were driving Britain’s Lockdown culture of ‘safety-ism’.

Our Conservative Woman commissioned Savanta ComRes poll, conducted over the weekend of 7th and 8th November, revealed a comparable, massively exaggerated perception of the risk of death from Covid: 

·       People think that the median age at which Covid victims have died is just 65 when the average is 82.4 years (older than average life expectancy generally of 81.16 years);

·       Some 41 per cent wrongly think Covid has been the single biggest cause of UK deaths in 2020 when it barely reached the top ten even at the height of the pandemic in April. September data shows it to be 19th in England and 24th in Wales. The younger the person, the more inaccurate their estimate of the age of Covid’s victims;

·       Fears about ‘long Covid’ are wildly exaggerated, with a majority (52 per cent) believing it to affect around one patient in three, when the even the most conservative estimates suggest it affects only one in 20;

·       People have grossly inflated perceptions of the Infection Fatality Ratio (IFR) significantly overestimating death risk in the 15 – 44 age group  and the 45-64 age groups.

So, yes, the public’s huge lockdown sacrifice is based, at least in part, on a massive misconception of the risk of dying from Covid.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. As Tim Stanley pointed out in his comment piece on our poll in the Telegraph on Monday, ‘the problem is not an absence of news coverage but a surfeit‘ and, I would add, within an unremitting diet of ‘project fear’ propaganda.

And why wouldn’t people genuinely perceive Covid to be a higher risk than it is? The Government’s original public information campaign, with Mark Strong on the hour and every hour on all channels, could not have been more effective. ‘Stay at Home, Save Lives’ was the broadcast equivalent of an air raid siren. 

Not once over six months has the BBC’s Project Covid Fear coverage let up – it’s been a daily diet of uncritical infection and death reporting almost entirely lacking any critical examination or context. As for the Government, Tim Stanley is quite right to point out that:

‘The Government has played up the dangers of Covid to get us to obey public health orders, and not since 9/11 have we seen such enthusiastic collusion with the broadcast media, which has seized upon every worst-case scenario to create a sense of impending doom that happens to be good for business. “Stay tuned or you will die.” 

‘We’ve even seen the return of dodgy dossiers.’ he goes on to remark, ‘When the Government was bounced into a second lockdown by an internal leak – yes, your masters really are that dysfunctional – it built its case by deluging us with data. At the press conference on October 31, we were shown graph after incomprehensible graph, with the implication that if you dissent from all this science you must be an idiot – except that some of the numbers were wrong and the Government later downgraded them.’ 

It’s not a lack of data, but a surfeit of dodgy data that’s blinded a too ‘credible’ public – the honourable exceptions being those Lockdown Sceptics and scientists struggling to get alternative data and analysis out there.  It is indeed ironic, as Tim says, that never has the citizen been so potentially empowered, yet never so cowed by the state nor more poorly served by so un-inquiring a media. 

It is truly time that Lockdown lovers woke up and got a better grasp of risk. It is Lockdown that is not safe, not the risk of Covid. Our other poll findings show its terrible impact on health and mental health. Cancer deaths, which are far higher – by four times – than Covid deaths are doomed by Lockdown to rise again next year due to cancelled and interrupted appointments for screening and treatment. Growing numbers are already joining the dole queue and there is more to come, as Luke Johnson predicts here.

I fear too that we can expect the suicide rate, already higher than Covid for the under-50s, to take a greater toll on all people of working age. 

It is high time that the Government came clean with the public as to the risks their misjudged sacrifice really mean.

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Kathy Gyngellhttps://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/the-editors/
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @KathyConWom on Parler.

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