Precisely because the medical news in Britain is so cheerful, its difficulties escaping lockdown serve as a cautionary tale for everyone else. The task, it would appear, no longer is to suppress the virus or meter hospital demand or save lives or anything health-related. The task is to manage the dangerous interactions between a fearful political class and an overweening medical class.
Which brings us to the other jaw of the vise: an overweening public-health class.
The things these medical experts say become more outlandish by the day. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, for example, is now warning that even with widespread vaccination the U.K. may need to brace for future lockdowns. Imperial College modelers project that—again, even with widespread vaccination—Britain could see a third wave of the virus leading to as much hospitalization and death as the rest of Europe currently is experiencing.
Setting aside scientific questions about all this, such pronouncements represent a bold tendency by public-health professionals to adopt maximalist aims regarding the virus and then impose politically impossible conditions—to wit, to deny the public its freedom even after delivering the vaccinations that were supposed to unlock the economy. A braver politician would sideline these folks. Alas, that’s not what the U.K. has.
So, finally, I am led to another conclusion: that ministers and advisers who have explicitly rejected the idea of setting a “zero Covid” goal nonetheless find themselves taking the very decisions that one would take if such a strategy were in fact being pursued. Not only is this the case in respect of vaccines for 20-somethings, but also with the idea of twice-a-week testing for everyone, ongoing mask-wearing and distancing and the trialling of those illiberal and un-British Covid passports.
And among the awful consequences of Britain’s oppressive Covidocracy is a terrifying decline in mental health, especially among children. (TANSTAFPC – There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)
Evidence-based medicine might sound like a tautology – what kind of medicine isn’t based on evidence? I’m afraid that you’d be surprised. Massive decisions are often taken on misleading, low-quality evidence. We see this all the time. In the last pandemic, the swine flu outbreak of 2009, I did some work asking why the government spent £500 million on Tamiflu: then hailed as a wonder drug. In fact, it proved to have a very limited effect. The debate then had many of the came cast of characters as today: Jonathan Van-Tam, Neil Ferguson and others. The big difference this time is the influence of social media, whose viciousness is something to behold. It’s easy to see why academics would self-censor and stay away from the debate, especially if it means challenging a consensus. Academics who are tenured, like me, don’t have to worry so much about people pulling strings above us. This is the importance of tenure; it allows academic freedom. In a crisis, when tempers run so high, you need a variety of views more than ever.
Distrust of the establishment plays a role in vaccine hesitancy, but it’s probably time to back off on the prevailing commentary suggesting that those avoiding vaccines are irresponsible, uninformed or politically manipulated.
It was globalism that enabled researchers and startup executives to produce and distribute the vaccines that have now reached hundreds of millions of people around the world. Fair-weather trade wars look more and more nonsensical with each passing month of pandemic-era restrictions on exchange.
Early on, Dr. David Katz of Yale urged that we consider an approach that minimized “total harm” by looking after the vulnerable, as it was by now evident C-19 was not an equal opportunity offender and the median age of those passing “with” or “from” it was above 80.
Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford, justly esteemed for his research, penned a peer-reviewed study on the “harms of exaggerated information and non-evidence-based measures” on the same day that Fauci was delivering his Congressional doomsday testimony.