Ivor Cummins corrects an attempt to discredit his informative work on Covid-19 and lockdowns. (I do strongly disagree, however, with Cummins’s unfair and inaccurate description of the Institute of Economic Affairs – on whose Academic Advisory Council I proudly serve.)
Of course, scientists who make consistently bad predictions should be challenged. But we should also be very careful not to punish people for getting things wrong. That is how science works. People form hypotheses that are proved or disproved. Epidemiologists like Gupta and Ioannidis use modelling to make predictions. Sometimes they are correct. Sometimes not. Yes, the stakes are high, but we still need room for dissent and heterodox opinions. We need to be able to examine the pandemic from all angles, because not everybody’s experience of what we’re going through is the same.
What’s more, critics of Gupta ignore the key things she has got right. For instance, she was completely correct to warn of lockdown’s disproportionate impact on the poor – particularly in the developing world. This warning has even been echoed by the World Health Organisation, which has advised governments not to use lockdowns as their primary method of controlling the virus. Critics of lockdown have also been right to warn about worsening mental health, damage to children’s education and increases in domestic abuse.
SARS-CoV-2 is a serious viral pathogen for people who are very old or medically frail. It wreaks havoc in long-term care facilities — yet the places in the world with the highest death rates (Lombardy, Italy, the United Kingdom, New York, New Jersey, etc.) all implemented some version of deprioritizing residents of those facilities to keep hospital beds available for the general population.
For many people, however — and contrary to frequent misreporting — COVID is a relatively mild infection. For adults ages fifty to seventy, the CDC best estimate for the survival rate is 99.5 percent. From ages twenty to fifty, it is 99.98 percent, and for children and young adults under age twenty, according to the CDC, the survival rate is 99.997 percent — far less dangerous than seasonal influenza.