The results wouldn’t be published until a few months after Covid arrived in early 2020, but Columbia University’s Jeffrey Shaman and colleagues produced a study in 2016-18 showing that only 5% of cold-symptom sufferers and 21% of people with flu-like symptoms sought medical attention.
Had the data been available in the pandemic’s earliest days, it would have reinforced what should have been everybody’s first assumption after reflecting on their own medical behavior. If most people with mild symptoms weren’t seeing doctors, not only was Covid less deadly than being reported, it was likely already out of the bag globally and unstoppable even in countries where it had yet to be formally identified.
And any epidemiologist would have told you as much in the first weeks, before it became systematically necessary to pretend something else for political reasons. You can still see the results in certain journalistic accounts three years later, framed by a presumption that only the terrible incompetence and failure of our leaders allowed Covid to spread at all. In his latest book, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward portrays himself demanding of then-President Donald Trump, our failing national daddy, “Do something!”
The story of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis is the story, in contrast, of a grown-up. After initially adopting stringent measures, he returned to first questions. Was the virus stoppable? Would trying materially pay off in terms of reduced mortality and suffering? No, he concluded. As a result, Florida experienced roughly the same Covid outcomes as other states while piling on fewer of the costly, impotent gestures that were adopted elsewhere mainly to show that politicians were very, very concerned.
The UK’s public finances are in a worse state than at any time since the Second World War. Not the Government’s fault, says Jeremy Hunt. It’s the pandemic. It’s Ukraine. It’s world-wide interest rates. It’s just about anything other than the main culprit lurking in the background: the lockdowns of the last two years.
Let us look at a few sobering facts. First of all, government expenditure associated with the pandemic has been by far the largest contributor to the current deficit. The National Audit Office (NAO) has estimated the total cost at £376 billion, or £5,492 for every man, woman and child in the land.
Secondly, most of this expenditure was not in fact caused by the pandemic, but by the government’s decision to respond by locking the population down. Less than a quarter of the NAO’s figure represents the extra cost of health and social care. Most of the rest is the cost of supporting people prevented from working and businesses prevented from operating. At the height of the pandemic, the government was spending about twice as much per month on paying people to do nothing as the entire cost of the NHS.
Compare the modest financial hit experienced by Sweden, the only European country to see through the hype by which other governments sought to justify their measures. Sweden operated a largely voluntary system and refused to lock down. Pandemic-related measures cost 60 billion kronor in 2020 and 2021, according to government figures. This works out at about £460 a head, less than a tenth of the UK figure. Yet their results in terms of both cases and deaths were a lot better than ours.
We are paying the price of panic, populism and poorly thought-out knee-jerk decision-making. At least the current Prime Minister can point to his warnings as chancellor that lockdowns were unaffordable if extended over any significant period of time. Boris Johnson’s lordly indifference to mere money ensured that the cost was not even considered. All that can be said in his favour is that, if the Labour Party had had its way, the lockdowns would have been even longer and more costly.
The true cost of this terrible social experiment is now becoming clearer. Health professionals warned at the time that lockdowns would have a serious impact on mental health and on the diagnosis and treatment of other conditions. All this has come to pass as surely as Rishi Sunak’s warnings about the cost. Excess deaths are currently running at about 10 per cent above historic rates, almost all from conditions other than Covid. By far the biggest contributor is dementia, a condition aggravated by loneliness and lack of stimulation.
The full cost of the Covid-19 school shutdowns will take years to understand, but here’s another estimate that will make many parents livid: If the recent learning loss can’t be reversed, it would equate to a 1.6% drop in lifetime earnings for the average K-12 student, or a nationwide total of some $900 billion.
It’s a disturbing trend taking hold across the country. The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) recently voted to remove Dr. Peter McCullough, one of the nation’s leading cardiologists, from his certifications in cardiovascular disease. Mr. McCullough’s sin had nothing to do with his performance in caring for patients, but rather with questioning the necessity of the COVID-19 vaccine for younger populations. With their far-reaching certification authority, the ABIM has the power to make any doctor’s life a living hell. Mr. McCullough’s fate now hangs in the balance until his Nov. 18 appeal date. This dangerous precedent must be nipped in the bud in the nation’s most populous state (governed by an oft-mentioned future presidential candidate) before it can take hold elsewhere.
Chief among those charting their own course is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. From a libertarian perspective, DeSantis is a mixed bag, mixing heavy-handed culture war with support for tax cuts and resistance to public-health authoritarianism. But whatever his ambiguous appeal to advocates of freedom, the combination is proving popular among Floridians and Republicans alike. Voters in his state handed him a huge win over his Democratic rival, while the GOP faithful eye him as a new standard-bearer for their party.
All that said, the GOP has a problem that runs deeper than Trump (though it may have gotten much worse under Trump). It’s this: Republicans today stand for nothing, and on the rare occasions that they do stand for something, that something is woeful. From protectionism to vile anti-immigration rhetoric, from government-engineered paid leave to the extended child tax credit, and from threatening to punish big tech and to impose industrial policy, with a contingent shouting “free-markets are actually bad”, the party is in disarray intellectually – a fact that plausibly contributes to its current disarray politically.
However, unless Republicans wake up and realize that this crusade against “market fundamentalism” isn’t working for them—if only because it’s a sloppy, lazy and economically ignorant agenda—they will continue to be ridiculed and lose elections long after Trump has gone bye-bye.
In 2009 (things are even worse now), lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate’s “Three Felonies a Day” demonstrated how easy it is for the behavior of law-abiding — or so they mistakenly assume — citizens to violate a law. There are more than 3,000 federal crimes and an estimated 300,000-plus federal regulations that can be enforced by agencies empowered to seek criminal punishments.