Singing is a gift, but during the pandemic it became a privilege. I joined my school’s Women’s Chorale during the second semester of last year. On the first day of rehearsal, we measured 10-foot distances to mark spots where we would sing, with masks on, in the concert hall. We could sing for only an hour, and in the fall the chorale had to sing outside—still 10 feet apart, with masks on. By the end of the spring semester, that became six feet apart, and instead of a concert, we recorded our songs with a sound guy who said “OK” at the end, in place of applause.
Fast-forward to last Friday night, when I sang in my first concert in two years before a full audience. Granted, we wore masks, but we stood next to each other, and the applause and seeing friends in the audience were well worth it.
At the beginning of the school year, we were able to sing without masks. But then my school flip-flopped due to government restrictions. The back-and-forth due to the amount of Covid cases on campus is giving us whiplash. When we sing with masks on stage, we look indistinguishable and impassive. We shouldn’t lose sight of how strange it is that the government and the university can now mandate the manner in which we sing.
–Claire Feeney, Wheaton College (Illinois), international relations
President Biden’s excessive executive action mandating vaccines is causing an equally excessive reaction among some Republicans. See Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order Monday banning vaccine mandates by private employers. This political vaccine jujitsu is causing real harm to Americans and U.S. social harmony.
Yet even as the U.S. was turning the corner on Delta, President Biden issued his sweeping vaccine diktats, which he no doubt hoped would boost his flagging public support. Polls show that vaccine mandates are popular with most Americans. But Mr. Biden’s mandate has hardened political opposition to vaccines and turned them into another accelerant for polarization.
Writing in City Journal, the great American-Anglo novelist Lionel Shriver decries the tyrannical mindset into which so many of the British have fallen as a result of their Covid hysteria – hysteria largely intentionally engineered by the British government. Four slices:
What was once the land of “keep calm and carry on” could now be the “most frightened nation in the world.” So says Laura Dodsworth, author of A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponised Fear During the Covid-19 Pandemic. Data seem to bear her impression out. According to an Ipsos MORI poll conducted in July, an impressive 27 percent of Britons want to impose a government-mandated nationwide curfew of 10 PM—not then in force—“until the pandemic was under control worldwide,” which might be years from now. A not-inconsiderable 19 percent would impose such a curfew “permanently, regardless of the risk from Covid-19.” Presumably, these are people who don’t get out much. While 64 percent want Britain’s mask mandate in shops and on public transport to remain a legal requirement for the duration of the global pandemic, an astounding 51 percent want to be masked by law, forever.
There’s more: some 35 percent want to confine any Briton who returns from a foreign country, vaccinated or not, to a ten-day home quarantine—permanently, Covid or no Covid. A full 46 percent would require a vaccine passport in order to travel abroad—permanently, Covid or no Covid. So young people today would still be flashing that QR code on whatever passes for smartphones in 2095, though they might have trouble displaying the device to a flight attendant while bracing on their walkers. Likewise, the 36 percent who want to be required to check in at pubs and restaurants with a National Health Service contact-tracing app forever. A goodly 34 percent want social distancing in “theatres, pubs and sports grounds,” regardless of any risk of Covid, forever. A truly astonishing 26 percent of Britons would summarily close all casinos and nightclubs forever.Are these just a bunch of fogies who don’t go clubbing anyway? No. In the 16-to-24 age bracket, the proportion of Brits who want to convert Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London’s Soho into a community lending library, even after Covid is a distant memory, soars to a staggering 40 percent.
In styling their propaganda, health authorities have relied on the sledgehammer subtlety of World War II posters. Indeed, political rhetoric has consistently portrayed the pandemic as a war, called upon Britons’ “Blitz spirit,” and anthropomorphized the virus into an enemy with devious intentions to evade the country’s defenses. The most heavy-handed of the government’s several advertising campaigns—which together have constituted the real “blitz”—was “Look them in the eyes . . . and tell them you’re doing all you can to stop the spread of Covid-19.” Posters showed rheumy patients staring into the camera looking soulfully woeful while muzzled by oxygen masks. These images alternated with exhausted nurses in full PPE regalia. (Their dark, resentful expressions could perhaps explain why, for over a year, so few Britons have sought even urgent non-Covid health care from a service they fund.)
Snitching on your neighbors for violating lockdown measures has been actively encouraged. The majority of English police forces established online forms to report lockdown breaches. Only three days into the first lockdown, the Northamptonshire force alone had received “dozens and dozens” of public reports about, for instance, neighbors who had been out for a second run in one day (more “guidance,” not law). By early April 2020, a full 11 percent of Derbyshire’s 2,300 daily calls were to rat out lockdown flouters. Last autumn, Johnson encouraged local councils to hire citizen “Covid marshals” to bully and harass the noncompliant. (One of Google’s “related searches” when I input “reports on lockdown breaches U.K.” runs “do you get a reward for reporting Covid breaches.”) In a January 2021 YouGov poll, 91 percent of Britons claimed that they would keep following the rules, but 56 percent did not believe that other people would. Sanctimony plus faultfinding equals a formula for “curtain twitchers” on a scale that would make the Stasi proud.
In the main, the only criticisms that brave broadcast journalists have ventured are that lockdowns have not been imposed early enough, long enough, or strenuously enough. “Experts” have been systematically cherrypicked to be as alarmist as possible. Cheerful statistics—hospital discharges of Covid patients exceeding admissions or all-cause death rates dipping below the five-year average for months on end in 2021—never seem to make the news. This spring, when health-care professionals finally received instructions to stop tallying as Covid fatalities patients who tested positive for the virus but really died of something else, media reports were small and quiet. No one asked why moribund cancer patients who simply happened to carry the virus when they died (and who had often been infected in a hospital) were ever counted as Covid fatalities to begin with. It’s perverse, but from the start it’s been hard to resist the impression that, once committed to the narrative of full-blown calamity, the media and the government have both wanted to make the death toll appear as high as possible.
Finally, Gorski and Yamey compare lockdown sceptics to ‘climate science deniers’, insofar as both groups “argue that evidence-based public health measures do not work”. They call for experts to push back against the Great Barrington Declaration by highlighting “scientific consensus”, citing the John Snow Memorandum.
Of course, the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum is just another public statement signed by scientists and health professionals. If it constitutes “scientific consensus”, then so does the Great Barrington Declaration. I’m only aware of one attempt to gauge overall expert opinion on focused protection: the survey by Daniele Fanelli.
He asked scientists who’d published at least one relevant paper, “In light of current evidence, to what extent do you support a ‘focused protection’ policy against COVID-19, like that proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration?” Of those who responded, more than 50% said “partially”, “mostly” or “fully”.
Regardless of the exact number of experts who support focussed protection, claiming there is a “scientific consensus” against it is simply false. Long before the Declaration itself was published, manyscientists had proposed some version of precision shielding. In fact, this was basically the UK’s plan until the middle of March, 2020.
On 5th March, Chris Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee that we are “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”.
The GBD, which I wrote, together with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford and Dr. Sunetra Gupta at Oxford, argues for focused protection. Rather than a blanket lockdown which inflicts so much harm on society, we wanted better protection of those most at risk – mindful that Covid poses only a mild risk to the young. For saying so, we are smeared as ‘the new merchants of doubt’ – as if scepticism and challenge is regarded by the BMJ as something to be condemned.
The error-strewn attacks in BMJ demonstrate what awaits academics who do challenge prevailing views.
The BMJ article is full of errors that ought to have never found their way into any publication. Here are some examples:
My colleagues and I are described as ‘critics of public health measures to curb Covid-19’. On the contrary, throughout the pandemic we have strongly advocated better public health measures to curb Covid-19 – specifically protection of high-risk older people, with many‘clearly defined’ proposals. The failure to implement such measures, in our view, has led to many unnecessary Covid deaths.
We are described as ‘proponents of herd immunity’ which is akin to accusing someone of being in favour of gravity. Both are scientifically established phenomena. Every Covid strategy leads to herd immunity. The key is to minimise morbidity and mortality. The language, here, is non-scientific: herd immunity is not a creed. It’s how pandemics end.
It says we have ‘expressed opposition to mass vaccination’. Dr. Gupta and I have spent decades on vaccine research and we are all strong advocates for Covid and other vaccines. They are among the greatest inventions in history. To falsely credit the anti-vaccine movement with support from professors at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford is damaging for vaccine confidence. This is unworthy of a medical journal.
Yet somehow a widespread consensus appears to have emerged among the commentariat, reflected in today’s report from MPs, that an earlier lockdown would have saved lives. This appears to be based on nothing more than the thought that if we stopped the spread by locking down, then an earlier lockdown would have stopped spread sooner and so fewer people would have died. That is pretty obviously true, but it ignores the key point that SAGE made so early on: what happens when lockdown is relaxed? Unless you are prepared to keep people locked up forever, at some point they are going to mingle again and the virus will spread. Without including that post-lockdown period in your analysis you cannot say whether earlier lockdown would have saved any lives.
And even if an earlier lockdown would have saved some lives that alone would not be remotely enough to justify it. In 1996 the death rate in the UK was 11 per thousand people. In 2019 it was 9.4 per thousand. That difference in death rates is equivalent, for the UK’s current population, to about 100,000 deaths.