The vast social costs of Covid lockdowns are clear, so why is the inquiry silent?

The liberal establishment appears to remain wedded to a narrow and blinkered view of the Covid pandemic and its consequences.

It has been on full display during the Covid inquiry, especially during the cross-examination of Boris Johnson. Hugo Keith KC, the lead barrister at the inquiry, made a great effort to establish that the UK had a very high rate of excess deaths. In other words, a death rate which was higher than in the years immediately before the pandemic.

Measuring the excess death rate is not as straightforward as it may seem though, with a number of technical subtleties involved. But we can refer to a paper which has a very prestigious pedigree indeed in these matters. The article, entitled “Excess mortality associated with the Covid-19 pandemic” was written by leading academics for the World Health Organisation. It was published in Nature, one of the two top scientific journals in the world.

There is a specific discussion about the situation in the UK. The authors state that “in terms of the excess rate, the UK was in the middle of the pack”. But there is an interesting qualification. They show that in the opening months of the pandemic, essentially until early 2021, the excess death rate in the UK was definitely high. By implication after that date it was low by international standards, otherwise we would not be in the middle in terms of the overall outcome.

It is this initial period which has clearly shaped perceptions about what happened in the UK. But it is the outcome over the full length of the pandemic which matters in terms of assessing excess deaths.

A great deal of effort has been expended at the inquiry in trying to establish that Britain was too slow to introduce the initial lockdown. The idea that it was not needed and that we should instead rely upon herd immunity, a view apparently held in March 2020 by Prime Minister Johnson, has come in for scathing criticism.

In fact, the policy of herd immunity is one which is now followed, and has been followed for some time, by every Western country. The odd zealot still demands restrictions, but almost everyone now accepts that the virus can be allowed to circulate. In this way, we develop resistance by exposure to it.

Of course, vaccines mitigate the severity of the illness though not the number of cases. But if they had not been invented, we would have had no option but to rely on herd immunity. A more or less permanent state of lockdown would otherwise have bankrupted the country.

Study after study sets out the appalling social and economic costs of the policy of lockdown. Only this week a report from the Centre for Social Justice found that the pandemic has left Britain with a massive social divide that mirrors the “Two Nations” of the Victorian era.

The families and friends of some of those who died early in the pandemic have been prominent at the inquiry. It is impossible not to feel human sympathy for them. But we do not see anyone representing the large numbers who have died from having vital operations postponed or from their fatal illnesses not being identified early enough to be cured. These are all a direct result of lockdown and the policy of concentrating health resources on dealing with Covid.  

Will Hugo Keith KC be raising questions about these deaths and pinning the blame on the lockdown enthusiasts? In a balanced and fair inquiry these and the other broader social and economic issues would feature prominently. It remains to be seen whether they will.

As published in City AM Wednesday 13th December 2023
Image: Wikimedia
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