It is just a question of time before our jittery, ultra-globalised world is hit by the next lethal pandemic. Nobody knows when it will strike, or what the Next Big One will be – an entirely new pathogen, perhaps, rather than bird flu or the Marburg virus – but I’m certain of one thing: Britain won’t be ready. We will run out of hospital and testing capacity. Our politicians will panic, dig out their catastrophically flawed Covid playbooks, and seek to terrorise us into another lockdown, guaranteeing our final moral and financial degradation.
Let’s face it: Whitehall has learned almost nothing from the fiasco of 2020-22. There has been no proper cost-benefit analysis of lockdown. We haven’t engaged in a genuine inquest, our institutions haven’t been reformed, and the official inquiry will take too long and risks being captured by an establishment desperate to defend its legacy. Sir Keir Starmer, favourite to be our next prime minister, was at one with the Government and Matt Hancock on lockdowns – his only criticism was that he wanted more of the same, faster.
This is why The Telegraph’s Lockdown Files are so important, and so clearly in the public interest. Given officialdom’s glacial progress, the free press has a duty to release information, accelerate debate and hold power to account.
One question in particular that should trouble all of us is why so many of the claims made during the pandemic turned out not to be true. How much of this was genuine error or science not having caught up yet with a novel virus, and how much was it propaganda to make life easier for politicians, or to allow officials to save face? Why weren’t incorrect conclusions quickly rectified when the facts became clearer? We need to know.
Why, for example, were we often told that the virus “doesn’t discriminate” while of course the old and very ill were the ones really at risk? It was obvious very early on – from the cruise ships that suffered early outbreaks, for instance, or from Italy – that fatality rates were massively age-contingent. Children were exceptionally safe.
Or take the origins of the virus. Those who sought to explore whether it might have originated in a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan were demonised, ridiculed or cancelled. Now, the director of the FBI has concluded that this is the most likely explanation. This begs a crucial question: would we have followed China’s methods – lockdown and extreme social control – had we imagined the Beijing authorities were covering up a Chernobyl-style disaster? Might we not have gone for a more voluntarist, Swedish style approach? Where are the profuse apologies from all those who tarred supporters of the lab leak hypothesis as “racist”, “Trumpites” or “conspiracy theorists”?
In some cases, at least at first, the experts really didn’t know: in the virus’s earliest days, its mortality rate was unclear. It was also plausible that it might spread via touch, hence the hand-washing campaign launched in March 2020. Three years on, a seminal meta-analysis by the Cochrane Library suggests that hand-washing does in fact cut the number of infections by 14 per cent, but only enough to slow spread down slightly in an exponential growth situation.
There was also some justification at first for believing that the virus could be caught outside – but it soon became evident that this was in fact extremely unlikely, with the fresh air immediately diluting and dispersing the virus. When did the Government find out, and why didn’t it scrap all restrictions on outside gatherings early on? Many independent analysts realised pretty quickly that Covid was caught via airborne transmission, or aerosols, and that these were only really effective indoors. Yet a great many people were so scared by official pronouncements that they even washed their shopping. It was deemed dangerous to ask questions.
What about masks? It is obviously true that a high-tech contraption able to filter out all particles would help greatly. In the real world, however, masks as they actually exist and are worn by fallible humans (including, ludicrously, children) were for show: the government encouraged people to wear useless (and often filthy or badly fastened) cloth garments that did nothing to stop the virus. Basic surgical face masks were useless, too. In theory, N95 masks are more effective, and can protect some individuals under certain conditions.
In practice, however, the Cochrane meta-review is devastating: it finds, having analysed all available studies and randomised trials, that they do “not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers”. The authorities’ and scientific establishment’s decision to massively downplay the role of natural immunity in reducing the disease’s severity was another grave distortion of the truth. Yet the Lancet has now published a meta-review of 65 studies that finds that natural immunity (acquired as a result of catching Covid) protects as well as two vaccine shots. There were good reasons for people to get vaccinated: there was no need for officialdom to exaggerate the case.
Crucially, the principal beneficiary of a vaccine is the person who is vaccinated: they are much less likely to die (especially if they are elderly or otherwise at elevated risk), and the illness is likely to be a lot less severe. It was never likely that vaccines would eliminate, or even drastically reduce, transmission: there are plenty of “breakthrough infections”, usually with much milder symptoms. The case for vaccine passports was always thus extremely weak – and in my view, massively outweighed by the loss in liberty.
Covid saw endless politicians, bureaucrats, public health officials, scientists, professional journal editors, Twitter activists, Left-wing broadcasters and especially big tech firms transmogrify into authoritarian censors. They thought that “following the science” meant that their role was to amplify whatever the public health establishment’s most risk-averse current consensus was, rather than to pursue the truth independently. They convinced themselves that dissidents were heartless, paranoid freaks. They went on a terrifying power and ego trip.
The lesson is clear. Even in a crisis, free speech and open inquiry must be nurtured: elite groupthink is too often wrong, and must at all times be scrutinised. Long live the free press.
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