Was the SARS‐CoV‑2 coronavirus so dangerous to so many people that extreme government lockdowns were justified? Did the fatality rate from COVID differ substantially according to people’s age and presence of co‐morbidities, and did governors and other policymakers systematically take account of those differences? Did it make sense to close schools to in‐person attendance for anywhere from a few months to over a year? Was mask‐wearing indoors, even by people who had no COVID symptoms, an important contributor to slowing the spread of the coronavirus? And what really went on at those meetings of the Trump White House’s Coronavirus Task Force? Specifically, were the members carefully reading the numerous studies that were being published in the United States and around the world and adjusting their advice accordingly? Did it make sense for governors and other policymakers to focus only on COVID and ignore the major costs — including the costs to health — from lockdowns?
Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, addresses all of those questions and more in his book A Plague Upon Our House. (Disclosure: I am also a Hoover fellow and know Atlas professionally.) But he does so much more than that. He lays out how dysfunctional both the task force and the White House were in dealing with the coronavirus. Based on my own experience at interagency meetings in Ronald Reagan’s administration, I find Atlas’s many reports of people on the task force “going with the flow” completely plausible. It’s true that we have to take his word for what went on, but based on my experiences with him at Hoover, I do.
Beyond making his case with many facts, Atlas is a passionate man, and his book reads as if it were written in anger and frustration. Some readers might find that off‐putting. I like it because he almost never lets his passion override his respect for facts and reasoned argument. Indeed, his passion is largely based on his view that lockdowns led to many deaths, destroyed millions of livelihoods, and caused needless suffering — a case he makes well.
If you were not scared of what unaccountable bureaucrats can do when given a platform to make recommendations for the nation, you will be scared after reading his book. Hopefully, we will never again give governors the power to close whole sectors of the economy. And if we take away that power, one person who will deserve a lot of the credit is Scott Atlas.
The coronavirus is spreading through Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other cities in China like a bush fire; tens of millions of Chinese are locked down again. It won’t work. Like a new Mercedes, the BA.2 model of the omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus is faster, quieter and 30 per cent more prolific. There is no chance of stopping it with lockdowns, mass testing or social distancing – even in Xi Jinping’s China.
Two years ago, China’s lockdown strategy was being held up as the model to follow by scientists who toured BBC studios giving interviews without serious challenge. We heard plenty from Sage members like Professor Susan Michie and Professor Neil Ferguson. Dr Michie, a card-carrying member of the Communist party of Britain, wrote early in the pandemic that: ‘China has a socialist collective system (whatever criticisms people may have), not an individualistic, consumer-oriented, profit-driven society badly damaged by 20 years of failed neo-liberal economic policies.’ When not attending zero-Covid rallies as a keynote speaker, Dr Michie officially advised the government on ‘behavioural compliance’ – a policy that turned out to be all stick and no carrot.
Prof Ferguson later said that the ‘effective policy’ in China – locking down entire communities in their homes – opened his eyes. ‘It’s a communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… and then Italy did it. And we realised we could. If China had not done it, the year would have been very different.’ We also saw Beijing-style agitprop used by the UK government with Sage advising that: ‘The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging.’ The fear campaign began.
Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet and recipient of a Friendship Award from the Chinese government, went on Chinese television early in the pandemic to say: ‘I think we have a great deal to thank China for, about the way that it handled the outbreak.’ Chinese state TV then posted his interview as an advertisement on Facebook. It bought a lot of ads on Facebook in March 2020, which ran with no disclaimers.
Then there’s the World Health Organisation. On 24 February 2020 it told the world that: ‘China’s uncompromising and rigorous use of non-pharmaceutical measures [i.e. lockdown] to contain transmission of the Covid-19 virus in multiple settings provides vital lessons for the global response.’ Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, had visited China in January 2020 and congratulated the regime in even more fulsome terms: ‘In many ways, China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response. It’s not an exaggeration.’
What does he say now that we know the Chinese government was punishing those who spoke about the disease and ordering scientists to publish nothing without state approval? Those who were quick to praise China’s strategy at the time seem in no rush to revisit the lockdown logic that they pushed as absolute truth at the time.
If the FDA authorizes a fourth dose, we can expect the vaccine mandates to follow soon thereafter. Several institutions have already mandated third doses even in ultra-low-risk populations. Colleges around the country have instituted booster mandates for students. Princeton has refused to exempt healthy students with two doses and a prior infection from its booster mandate. The University of California’s booster policy also applies to the UCLA laboratory school (a high school), mandating a third dose for students aged 12 and up. There is little reason to doubt that institutions like these would quickly mandate a fourth dose.
Most people prefer experts, of course, especially when it comes to health care. As a surgeon myself, I can hardly object to that tendency. But a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process. The COVID-19 pandemic provided many examples. Most medical scientists, for instance, uncritically accepted the epidemiological pronouncements of government‐affiliated physicians who were not epidemiologists. At the same time, they dismissed epidemiologists as “fringe” when those specialists dared to question the conventional wisdom.
Yes. This is happening in our country. The U.S. Surgeon General and HHS demanded social media platforms turn over info about users the Government deems problematic and directed them to censor alleged “misinformation” about Covid-19. We’re suing them.
Two years on we are beginning to get a measure of the full impact of school closures on a whole generation of children and young people. We have seen a 77 per cent rise in acute mental health referrals for children, and a 167 per cent increase in self-generated online sexual images of 11-13 year olds. The academic impact has been substantial, especially for deprived children, and 100,000 have still not fully returned to school.