Has the Left finally woken up to the devastating costs of implementing lockdowns? In its first edition of 2022, the Observer carried a surprisingly balanced interview with Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of Sage whose new book — The Year the World Went Mad — argues that long lockdowns promoted more harm than good and failed to protect the vulnerable. Its favourable reception appears to herald a new direction in the critique of Covid measures and policies on the Left; for the first time, the question of what really represented the collective good in the Covid debate has been put on the table by a mainstream left-liberal publication.
This is certainly a new departure. As we have previously noted on UnHerd, the Left has strongly supported restrictive measures in the fight against the pandemic.
It argued that these restrictions, which clearly infringe on individual freedoms and rights, were nonetheless justified in the name of “the collective good” and “the collective right to life”. This allowed them to pre-empt any criticism of the new Covid consensus: if you’re against any of these measures, you’re against the collective interest. And so thinkers like us, who have always criticised neoliberal individualism and argued in favour of progressive state intervention, suddenly found ourselves accused of being libertarians or outright “Right-wingers”, just for taking a critical stance of governments’ response to the pandemic.
Indeed, it would appear that for many on the Left today, anything can be justified in the name of the “collective good”. It’s easy to see why Right-wing critics view this uncritical invoking of collective benefits as proof of the Left’s inclination towards authoritarian or “Stalinist” control. While such caricatural definitions are easy to laugh off, as leftists we can’t deny that there is something disturbing about the lack of critical commentary from the Left on how to reconcile the need for collective action with the importance of individual rights and freedoms in the response to Covid.
The grotesquery of the global responses becomes even more apparent when we take into account the fact that while governments went out of their way to keep healthy people locked in, chasing runners down solitary beaches or checking shopping trolleys to make sure people were only buying essentials, they all but abandoned those most vulnerable: nursing home residents. According to a recent Collateral Global study, Covid deaths in nursing homes amount on average to a staggering 40% of all Covid deaths in Western countries, despite representing less than 1% of the population. In some countries (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US), more than 5% of all care home residents were killed.
In view of this, it seems obvious that the focused protection approach championed by the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) — based on “allow[ing] those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” — was the right course of action. It would have avoided inflicting needless pain on workers, women and children through repeated lockdowns, while arguably saving countless lives, by focusing first and foremost on the elderly and especially on nursing homes.
It is time for the Left to look reality in the face and take stock of the fact that the prevailing Covid response of most Western governments has been an abysmal failure on all fronts —not least that of “saving lives”. An alternative approach is desperately needed. Fortunately, and tragically, it’s been hiding in plain sight all this time.
But the researchers peppered their report with rhetorical sleights of hand aimed at misleading readers into other, less well-founded conclusions that were mostly inevitable products of their own study design. One of their primary conclusions is that “in schools with universal masking, test-to-stay is an effective strategy.” That invites readers to assume that test-to-stay doesn’t work without forced masking. But since they studied no unmasked schools, this conclusion is baseless. An honest report would either have said so or not mentioned masking at all.
Duke’s Press office amplified the unfounded conclusion in its Jan. 4 summary of the study: “Children and staff who repeatedly test negative for COVID-19 after contact with someone who has the illness can safely remain in school if universal masking programs are in place.” The media took this press release and added a further layer of falsehood. Raleigh’s WRAL characterized the study as a defense of forced masking while pitching the study as documenting the danger of youth sports: “Athletics were the source of 50% of all COVID-19 school transmission found in the study.”
True, the ABC researchers found a higher rate of transmission during sports. But that was entirely a product of how the researchers defined Covid “exposure.” Students were counted as exposed only if they were unmasked during the interaction with an infected person. In mask-mandatory schools, that happened only during lunch and sports. If a transmission occurred in a masked classroom, the definition didn’t count it as a close contact. And the study found only three sports-related positives out of 352 tests. When combined with the three lunch-related positives, the six total positives resulted in a mere 1.7% of maskless exposures ending up with a Covid-19-positive contact.
An honest summary of the study might have said: “There is a low transmission rate of the virus among students, even when unmasked at lunch or during sports.” But a summary like that wouldn’t have reinforced the politically acceptable message of public-health authorities today, and so unfounded points had to be fashioned to fit the narrative.
The evidence about the Omicron variant should be a rebuke to busybody bureaucrats determined to lock down the nation. It is easy to spur hysteria by counting cases, and Omicron seems highly infectious. More important, however, is case severity. The metrics that epidemiologists should really care about, such as fatality rates, are similar for Omicron as they are for seasonal flu. Coercive and damaging tactics like lockdowns and employer vaccine mandates are draconian overreach and a massive overreaction. Lockdowns were disastrous, and we don’t need to repeat that mistake.
Nearly two years into the pandemic, vulnerable or concerned people already know how to protect themselves. Although President Biden prophesied a “winter of severe illness and death” for those unvaccinated, he has since wavered, stating there is “no federal solution” and that Covid ought to be solved at the state level. A transition to personal responsibility and local control is long overdue. The latest evidence about Omicron should hasten that realization, and hopefully we will soon learn to live with endemic Covid.
—Sarah Montalbano, Montana State University, computer science
Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins – in response to Friday’s oral arguments over Biden’s abominable vaccine mandates – describes U.S. Supreme Court associate justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor as “dizzy as the rest of us from the political spin.” A slice:
But the discussion was bad enough, confused by 24 months of incoherent government messaging about Covid. Justice Breyer declared it “unbelievable that it could be in the public interest to suddenly stop these vaccinations,” as if he imagined the Biden mandate had already taken effect and was playing an important role in the vaccinating of America. Not true. A large majority of the U.S. population has already been vaccinated; the mandate targets only 25% of the population, the private workforce, most of whom have already received the shot voluntarily or at their employer’s behest. At least half have also likely been infected and acquired natural immunity. And given an average age of 42, this sub-population hardly represents a bullseye on the lingering unvaccinated older cohort most likely to end up in the hospital.
In other words, the Biden workplace mandate, even if approved, is destined to have a negligible, almost invisible, impact on either vaccination rates or the unfolding of the pandemic.
On the latter point, the well-advertised blunder of Justice Kagan, her statement that vaccination was the “best way to prevent spread,” suggested she hadn’t heard of Delta or Omicron, both of which the vaccinated can transmit. This alone guts the incoherent argument for requiring workers in private workplaces to be vaccinated so private workplaces can be safe for unvaccinated workers.
The worst moment was Justice Sotomayor’s claim that Omicron was filling up the hospitals with kids, “many on ventilators.” The Washington Post awarded her four Pinocchios, adding censoriously, “It’s important for Supreme Court justices to make rulings based on correct data.”
The last bit was perhaps unfair. Ms. Sotomayor wasn’t offering legal reasoning but a “think of the children” soundbite to comfort liberals even as the administration’s workplace mandate likely doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance when the Court eventually rules.
Now, some politicians are othering the “unvaccinated.” These politicians attempt to scapegoat and marginalize this minority group, despite knowing that vaccinated and unvaccinated persons alike can contract and spread COVID-19. Below, I provide the words of three politicians as examples of othering language. I also encourage you to read their words in context.
In the United States, President Joe Biden’s September 9 press conference announced sweeping vaccine mandates. He expressed that “many of us are frustrated” with unvaccinated persons. He laid blame on them for the continued pandemic; Biden claimed that this “pandemic of the unvaccinated” was “caused by … nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.” He faulted “a distinct minority of Americans” for “keeping us from turning the corner.” And he promised “We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal.”
In a September 17 interview on the Quebec talk show La semaine des 4 Julie, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau labeled those opposed to vaccination “misogynists” and “racists.” Then, he exclaimed that Canada needed to make a choice: “Do we tolerate these people?”
In France, President Emmanuel Macron gave an interview with Le Parisien on January 4. In this interview, he categorized the unvaccinated as non-citizens, referred to their “lies and stupidity” as the “worst enemies” of democracy, and proclaimed “I really want to piss [the unvaccinated] off.” Macron argued these unvaccinated persons to be only “a very small minority who are resisting,” and asked a chilling question: “How do we reduce that minority?”
Here’s more insight from Vinay Prasad. A slice:
Omicron has three characteristics different than prior variants. First, it spreads very fast. Second, it is less lethal, and, third, vaccines do less to stop symptomatic infection. These three features mean that in this wave, or in a series of subsequent waves, the virus will eventually reach all people. You cannot avoid it forever. There are five key policy lessons from all this.
First, mask mandates make no sense. Almost all community wide mask mandates this entire pandemic asked people to wear any mask, and most people chose a cloth one. Cloth masks never worked to slow the spread of the virus. We analyzed all relevant studies months ago, and found no benefit, and a cluster randomized trial in Bangladesh found that cloth masks failed. Recently, CNN admitted as much.
Now, some argue that we need to wear higher grade masks, such as n95s or equivalent. Anyone who wishes should be free to do so, but they should not be mandated. We have no evidence such population wide mandates will help, and the truth is, even if worn perfectly, the mask might only delay the time until you are eventually infected, and not avert it. Worse, along the way you will suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of the mask.
Second, schools should not close. Closing schools was always a fool’s errand. High quality studies show school closure does not even slow spread in communities. Kids, working moms and society suffer significantly when schools close. Kids have bigger worries in life than COVID19. Outcomes for healthy kids are excellent and on par with seasonal flu. School closure in the USA was disproportionately an indulgence of liberal cities with strong teacher’s unions.
Third, we cannot keep the brakes on society. People are voting with their feet, and outside of urban liberal enclaves, people are enjoying restaurants, bars, and vacations. In many regions, you would not know a pandemic is going on. This reflects a fundamental exhaustion of the public. Given that so much of the public is done with restrictions, placing extremely harsh ones on college campuses, for instance, makes no sense. Colleges are full of the healthiest members of society. Asking these kids to be imprisioned in their rooms or dorms or on campus neither helps them or broader society.
Fourth, we have to focus on the most vulnerable people in society, as we always should have. The CDC director has now admitted this, in a remarkable turn. Nursing homes should get booster shots right now. We should think about improving staffing and infection control at these settings.
Fifth, hospitals should improve their capacities. Some health care workers were fired or forced out because of not receiving the vaccine. Some of these people had already had COVID19. These people should be permitted to return to work, with appropriate precautions, because at this juncture we need them far more than any risk they pose.
Meanwhile, mask mandates and social-distancing measures will have created fertile ground for new variants that evade vaccination even more effectively. Significant antigenic shifts may create new strains that are increasingly difficult to target with vaccines at all. There are no vaccines for many viruses, despite decades of effort to develop them.
Will relaxing restrictions come at the cost of more hospitalizations and deaths as the next variant starts to spread? Perhaps, but it would reduce the risk of a worst-case scenario and greater loss of life in the long run.
Why would Djokovic, one of the fittest people on the planet and still in his mid-30s, want to get vaccinated against a virus which, as multiple studies have shows, can do him little harm? At his age and with no pre-existing health problems, Djokovic is reportedly at greater risk of drowning than of ending up in ICU with Covid. Also, as athletes’ hearts are different to our sedentary human hearts and myocarditis is a known, if extremely rare, side-effect of the jab in slim younger men, the jab might even pose a tiny risk to him.
As it happens, Djokovic says he has had Covid twice, most recently on December 16, which means that, when he flew to Australia to defend his Open title, he was still teeming with antibodies. (Remember, the UK guidance says you should not receive the vaccine for 28 days after your Covid symptoms started.) I completely sympathise with Australians who objected to the idea that this arrogant tennis overlord had played a fast one, bypassing strict rules which prevented their fellow countrymen from returning home for 18 months, even to see dying loved ones. That applies doubly to the stoical people of Melbourne who endured 262 days of lockdown – the longest of any city in the world.
The fact remains, however, that although the state of Victoria now has a 90 per cent vaccination rate, it is currently recording over 30,000 Covid cases a day. Vaccines are a fantastic protection against severe illness and death – thank God and Dame Sarah Gilbert for that – but they are pretty powerless against omicron, which shimmies past their defensive net like a Djokovic dropshot. The latest research suggests that an unvaccinated Novak, who has terrific natural immunity from two bouts of the virus, poses no greater threat of infecting your average Melburnian than a non-sports superstar with two jabs and a booster.
Look, I never liked Novak Djokovic very much. What a cold, calculating machine he always seemed, compared to the easy grace and smiley magnanimity of Roger Federer. The events of the past few days have changed my view.
The treatment Djokovic received at the hands of Melbourne airport border guards, after he had been granted a visa, was extremely unjust. It seems clear that the Australian government, led by Scott Morrison, acting more like a Witchfinder General than a prime minister, wanted to make an example of this “anti-vaxxer” and the unlovable Serb was an easy target. (Some less famous players entered the former “No worries, mate” capital of the world without fuss under exactly the same exemptions.)
Covidocratic authoritarianism, dystopianism, and irrationality intensify in Scotland. (DBx: I wonder what bagpipes sound like when used to play “Scotland the Cowardly.”)
This spiral into abstraction by the Left is, quite literally, demoralising. Nothing matters when nothing is what it really is. We’re not serious, for all our deep tones and hushed voices and pained expressions. We’re just playing around. Just moving the counters about the board and admiring the configurations that result.
Here’s an interview with Monica Smit, an heroic warrior against Australia’s tyrannical Covidocracy, which – in response Ms. Smit’s refusal to take a PCR test – confined her for 22 days to solitary confinement. (HT Dan Klein)
Remember all those reasons why South Africa’s mild Omicron experience wasn’t relevant to the UK?
Turns out the real-world data from Gauteng was a better predictor of the London wave than the models produced by SAGE