Tuesday, July 27, 2021
HomeCOVID-19When in doubt, blame the lockdown sceptics

When in doubt, blame the lockdown sceptics

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AN editorial in the Guardian yesterday continued the increasingly deranged war against sceptics for daring to question the Government line: ‘A reckoning is due with “lockdown sceptics” in politics and the media, who fomented public distrust of official advice and encouraged dangerous risk-taking.’ Yet ‘official advice’ is often wrong and changes all the time. Funny how quick some supposed supporters of free speech are to find reasons why wrongthink must be punished.

Lockdowners love to point the finger at the failed predictions of sceptics. But do they check their own rear-view mirror? How much revisiting of their own prognostications have they done to see if they hit the mark? Or is it one rule for the sceptics and another rule for the lockdown zealots?

Meanwhile, one of the most fervent supporters of lockdown, the BBC, has run an analysis asking whether the much-hyped Christmas surge – supposedly resulting from mass household mixing over the festive season – actually materialised. There was no sign of it.

‘It is almost a month since Christmas was “downsized” across the country. But in many parts of the UK, people were allowed to meet in Christmas “bubbles” – if only for just one day. So what impact did this have? The overall picture shows a sharp increase in cases around this time.

‘However, a closer look at the numbers suggests this trend was already happening and was probably caused by the new, more infectious variant of the virus rather than increased contact between people.’

It’s not as though people didn’t mix: ‘A survey from the Office for National Statistics suggests that roughly half the population in Great Britain who were allowed to hold gatherings did so.’

This tallies with what the BBC found when it examined the question of a supposed Thanksgiving spike in America at the end of November. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (among others) claimed: ‘We saw in Canada and the US, huge spikes in infections after Thanksgiving.’ However, the BBC found: ‘Looking at the combined data for the whole of the US, there’s no clear indication that infection rates accelerated following the Thanksgiving holiday.’

So, were the lockdowners restrained and accurate in their predictions about the risks of mixing over Christmas, as they are always telling sceptics we must be? Let’s see.

The Health Service Journal ran a joint editorial with the BMJ – the second in their history – which was outspoken in its political advocacy and unequivocal about the risk of mixing over Christmas:

‘The Government was too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn. It should now reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave.’ 

Anouchka Grose in the Guardian wrote a particularly alarmist piece.

‘Anybody with any kind of conscience is beating their brain, calculating all eventualities that may result from showing up for lunch in a week’s time – one of which involves inadvertently killing your aged parents . . . Politicians have the option to look at the numbers, listen to the experts, explain the deadly consequences of big gatherings, develop rules for everyone’s wellbeing and trust that most of us will be happy to go along with them. This is precisely what happened in March, albeit after an extended bout of burbling and bluster. And, as one glance at the graphs shows, it worked. How hard can it be to convince people that the same magic could happen twice? Alongside the roll-out of the vaccine, we would see cases drop, rather than increase, in the new year. If Johnson isn’t prepared to do it, can we just agree among ourselves that Christmas is cancelled?’

In the spirit of Ipso demanding a retraction of Toby Young’s Telegraph article on herd immunity following a complaint for supposed errors of science and failures of foresight, perhaps a complaint is now due to Ipso for this guilt-inducing piece of failed prophecy. How many Guardian readers needlessly sacrificed the chance of seeing their loved ones on Christmas Day after reading Anouchka Grose’s article?

Less hysterical, but no less inaccurate, was this Observer editorial on December 20.

‘The Government was right to immediately impose tougher tier 4 restrictions on these parts of the country and elsewhere to restrict indoors household mixing to Christmas Day only. It is clear that without these measures there would have been a huge risk of a rise in infection and death rates in January and February as a result of intergenerational mixing over Christmas, particularly endangering older people and those with pre-existing health conditions . . . The fact that vaccines are being rolled out to high-priority groups, with more comprehensive coverage months away, underlines how ill-judged it would be to trigger a larger-than-necessary spike in the death rate with the end of this period of social restrictions in sight.’

But far from no ‘larger-than-necessary’ spike, there was no deadly spike at all.

Perhaps the most egregious offenders were ‘Independent Sage’. According to City AM:

‘[Independent Sage] said the new variant requires a “complete rethink of all mitigation strategies”. Independent Sage has said all regions of England should be placed in Tier 4 to suppress the virus “as much as possible”, and Christmas Day mixing should be cancelled, apart from with pre-existing bubbles . . . Independent Sage continued: “Christmas Day mixing of households indoors for prolonged periods of time, as allowed in tiers 1 to 3 in England and across the devolved nations, sets the scene for thousands of super-spreading events. In the context of the new strain, this is incredibly dangerous”.’

Examples could be multiplied. In truth, Christmas was an important mass experiment that put the claims of lockdowners and sceptics to the test. In the run-up to both Christmas and Thanksgiving, lockdowners predicted a death surge following household mixing, larger or smaller depending on how long the mixing lasted. In both cases their predictions failed to materialise at all – even the BBC says so. And that means their theory of what ‘controls the virus’ is faulty. Mass household mingling did not lead to ‘deadly consequences’. In fact, the infection rate began to slow down in the week after Christmas, as the graph from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study App shows.

This is another strong indication that lockdown is not holding back the flood. Time for the lockdowners to accept it.

A version of this article appeared in Lockdown Sceptics on January  20, 2021and is republished by kind permission.

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Will Jones
Dr Will Jones is a maths graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and author of Evangelical Social Theology: Past and Present (Grove, 2017).He blogs at https://faith-and-politics.com/

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