The story ran under the headline: “Patients overdosing on ivermectin backing up rural Oklahoma hospitals, ambulances.” It was quickly picked up by national news outlets, such as Rolling Stone, Newsweek, and the New York Daily News. Numerous high-profile media figures, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, tweeted about ivermectin overdoses straining Oklahoma hospitals—the implication being that the right-wing embrace of a crank COVID-19 cure was dangerous not only for the people who consumed it but for the stability of the entire medical system.
It was a story that appeared to confirm many of the mainstream media’s biases about the recklessness of the rubes. But it’s extremely misleading. There is, in fact, little reason to believe a purported strain on Oklahoma hospitals is caused by ivermectin overdoses; one hospital served by the doctor quoted in the KFOR article released a statement saying it has not treated any ivermectin overdoses, nor has it been forced to turn away patients.
This is yet another example of the mainstream media lazily circulating a narrative that flatters the worldview of the liberal audience, without bothering to check on any of the details. Additional reporting was sorely needed here, and has now completely undermined the central point of the story.
American history contains vivid reminders that grafting the values of law enforcement and national security onto public health is both ineffective and dangerous. Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have justified abuses of state power. Highly discriminatory and forcible vaccination and quarantine measures adopted in response to outbreaks of the plague and smallpox over the past century have consistently accelerated rather than slowed the spread of disease, while fomenting public distrust and, in some cases, riots.
The lessons from history should be kept in mind whenever we are told by government officials that “tough,” liberty-limiting actions are needed to protect us from dangerous diseases.
A dangerous new wisdom is forming, which views action as always better than inaction. It is reinforced by a popular narrative about the pandemic, that our errors were mostly in acting too slowly and deliberating too much. In this view, long-standing rules and institutions of liberal democracies have been demoted to fussy obstacles that prevent us from replicating the successes of the command-and-control governments of Asia.
But action can be every bit as damaging as inaction. Ask Matt Hancock, whose action-hero emptying [in Britain] of hospitals at the start of the pandemic certainly made things worse; or the Indians whose lives were upturned by their government’s pointless and draconian early lockdown.
But one distinction between children and adults has, until now, held tight: adults, collectively, are supposed to protect children, and not the other way around. Sadly, coronavirus seems to have put paid even to this most basic moral certainty. It has become acceptable for adults to demand that children act to protect them. This shameful state of affairs turns traditional moral values on their head.
The latest example of this role reversal can be seen in the pressure to vaccinate healthy children against Covid despite almost complete agreement that the vaccine is of little medical benefit to them. As vaccinated children will still be able to transmit the virus, the sole purpose of the proposed roll-out seems to be to make teenagers provide psychological reassurance to fretful adults.
Now let’s look at sunny Queensland. In January, the state’s health authorities made it compulsory to wear a mask while driving alone. Health minister Yvette D’Ath explained the reasoning as follows: ‘We want clear, concise instructions for everyone to follow… So if you put on your mask as soon as you leave the front door – no questions, no exceptions – then that’s much easier to follow.’ This certainly reveals the health authorities’ low view of people’s intelligence. If they don’t trust Queenslanders to operate a mask, why trust Queenslanders to operate a car?
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, is not immune to such absurdity, either. In July, chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant provided the ultimate excuse, in the name of tackling Covid, for ignoring people you don’t want to talk to: ‘If you run into your nextdoor neighbour, in the shopping centre, at Coles or Aldi or any other grocery shop, don’t start up a conversation.’
Here’s another excerpt from Gigi Foster’s, Michael Baker’s, and Paul Frijters’s new book, The Great Covid Panic. A slice from this excerpt:
In 1841, the poet Charles Mackay authored the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds in which he describes what he learned from watching cities, villages and countries in times of war, illness, religious and ideological fanaticism. His key message to the future is embodied in this quote: ‘Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.’ Earlier and later writers said similar things. We take Mackay’s pronouncement to be an empirical claim that once a crowd has lasted for a while, it will not dissolve in a bang, but slowly.
The lockdown upheaval has affected every aspect of life, including intellectual life. People we did not know have become some of the most passionate and informative voices against government measures. People who otherwise would never have entered public life on this topic felt a moral conviction to stand up and speak. Martin Kulldorff and Lord Sumption come to mind – serious men who could easily have sat this one out. Some prominent voices have shown themselves willing to rethink in real time. Matt Ridley, after an initial bout of alarmism, gradually came around.
Other trusted voices such as Michael Lewis stumbled very badly. He and Chomsky are hardly alone. The topic of public health in the presence of a pathogen has disoriented many intellectuals I’ve followed for years. Some are silent either out of fear or confusion, and others have faltered. They have allowed panic to overcome rationality, been overly glued to the television screen, demonstrated overreliance on some “experts” while lacking curiosity to look further, and otherwise downplayed the carnage that has come from lockdowns and mandates.
Some of these people have found themselves thoroughly confused about what government should and should not do in times of pandemic, while completely ignoring the dangers of granting so many new powers to a ruling class.