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The Left pushes for hard Covid measures (again)

October 18, 2023 - 2:45pm

This week George Monbiot, the well-known environmental journalist and climate campaigner, has written another polemical Guardian column about Covid, extolling the virtues of mask-wearing in hospitals and endorsing keeping school children with a runny nose or sore throat at home.

He claims that the Government is acting like “Covid-19 is all but over”, unaware of the epidemiological differences between an epidemic and endemic disease, and the vital role of herd immunity. Unsurprisingly, he overstates the risk of re-infection and long Covid, using fear-mongering language. 

But most egregiously, he points to “steady rising” Covid deaths, leaving out some vital details. Data from the Office of National Statistics in England and Wales shows there were nearly five times more influenza deaths (1,229) than Covid deaths (255) last week, and 89% of these deaths with Covid were in people over 70 years old.

Unfortunately, Monbiot is just one example of many on the Left who are pushing for such measures. From Leftist intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Bruno Latour to journalists such as Amy Goodman and Ed Yong and academics, including members of Independent Sage and the World Health Network, many on the Left became Covid hardliners during the pandemic and promoted a new safety subculture that persists today.

While there are some outward manifestations of this subculture around us — masks, boosters, social distancing, vaccine mandates — it is also guided by a distinct political philosophy: government “complacency” is responsible for “deliberately infecting” people with Covid, and causing a “mass disabling event”, because they are not providing a Covid-safe environment. 

Despite pushback within some corners of the Left, these critiques, for the most part, fell on deaf ears. Instead, the pandemic was coopted as a radical moment to “rethink everything”. Hence, lockdowns were praised as an exercise in mass empathy, concerns about social trade-offs were dismissed as a Right-wing conspiracy, large restrictions on free speech were heralded as a necessary strategy to fight “disinformation”, vaccine mandates were promoted as a way to punish non-conformists, and fears about the threat of Covid to the young and healthy were repeatedly hyped up

Where does this impulse on the Left come from? Clearly, there is a connection between these critiques of the Covid response and Leftist critiques of climate inaction. Fear of Covid drew upon the apocalyptic imagery of ecosystem destruction and concerns about chemical contamination, which was turbocharged by the safetyism associated with the lockdown era.

Indeed, there is ideological crossover among those who advocate for maximalist Covid controls and maximalist policies for the climate emergency. The ultimate solutions to both involve some mix of greater state controls on individual behaviours, a radical overhaul of capitalism and a fight against “anti-science” forces. We have already seen, for example, climate lockdowns, personal carbon credits and bans on meat enter the climate debate, ideas with which writers like Monbiot have also toyed, albeit with some ambiguity. 

Yet from Covid to climate, we urgently need to cultivate a greater ability to balance social trade-offs in how we respond to health emergencies. Otherwise, we risk being carried to extremes by the lofty rhetoric of security, saviourism and “the science”.


Kevin Bardosh is a research professor and Director of Research for Collateral Global, a UK-based charity dedicated to understanding the collateral impacts of Covid policies worldwide.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Of course there’s a connection between Covid and climate change alarmists. They are the same people. They are the righteous ones, so intellectually and socially superior that they must protect deplorables from themselves. They bathe themselves in luxury beliefs, not for one moment considering their solutions could have negative consequences for others. They hate freedom and think the state has all the answers. Their hubris is breathtaking – never once considering that their deeply held beliefs could possibly be wrong.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The righteous one like Trump and Johnson?
Jimbo, I know that you get your news from Fox and Breitbart but even you can’t have missed who put the Covid restrictions into place?
The hubris doesn’t live on the left, sport…

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Shoot. I started writing a reply and then I noticed who wrote it. Meh.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good save. No point making yourself look even more foolish by trying to dispute the facts with me.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

I have got it. You are Angela Rainer. I claim my £5

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Also, the do not like or care for people except to the extent that they can be used for virtue signalling purposes

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Again, the social Darwinism on display here is a zero sum game that offers absolutely no protection against dictators, pandemics, or increasingly unmanageable weather events. On your declared worldview, Jim, one man’s ‘freedom’ is another’s death by disease or drowning. No high moral or intellectual ground for you there – enough with the mudslinging.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
9 months ago

A subculture of safety could be making a comeback
“A subculture of authoritarian control could be making a comeback.” FTFY.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago

In my jurisdiction they are masking in medical settings again for some irrational reason. I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one in the waiting area unmasked and that none of the staff said anything to me about it. Resisting is the only way this will end.

Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
9 months ago

I do wonder if the Govt. was demanding a QR code check for vaccinations at Tube entrances, entering buildings, shops, restaurants, etc etc whether Monbiot and his tribe would be demanding freedom? So much of what this tribe write and talk about is contrarianism. I really doubt they would be happy if all they wish for came about.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
9 months ago

This can all be explained very easily: There is an election coming up in America.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips
9 months ago

“Where does this impulse on the Left come from?”
The left has always been (and will always be) authoritarian in nature. What was disappointing, to say the least, is that a supposed Conservative administration acquiesced so readily to what was clearly an unwarranted panic.

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Phillips

Leaving aside your fatuous and offensive characterisation of a pandemic that killed millions and overwhelmed healthcare workers, there’s an obvious reason why even that most talentless of Tory cabinets ‘acquiesced’ – because to do otherwise would have cost much more politically and economically, as well as at the human level you so casually disregard.
As to authoritarianism, that’s never really been about libertarian right versus collectivist left, which is just a debating society distraction from clear and present dangers. What ultimately underpins authoritarianism is the cult of personality that emerges when conventional politicians allow inequities to fester. The pantomime stereotyping of right v left is an obvious nonsequitur in the world of Trump, Modhi, Orban and the rest, whose ambitions clearly have nothing to do with social democracy of any hue. The social Darwinism on display here is a zero sum game that offers absolutely no protection against dictators, pandemics, or increasingly unmanageable weather events. 

Last edited 9 months ago by Joe Deegan
Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago

This really isn’t a left wing right wing thing. I agree that there is a modern potentially totalitarian mindset in play, but this is far more widely distributed across the social and political spectrum than this author realises and sits far nearer to the technocratic neo-liberal centre than out towards the extremes. The Cold War is dead, it’s far more ‘A Clockwork Orange’ than it is ‘1984’.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
9 months ago

Thank you.
It is truly astounding how impervious to facts the masks-and-lockdowns crowd are.
Once again, it just goes to show that there is no limit to what people won’t see if their salary depends on them not seeing it, and that it is easier to fool someone than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
9 months ago

Is it just my imagination or has a complete thread vanished from this discussion?

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
9 months ago

 “..there is ideological crossover among those who advocate for maximalist Covid controls and maximalist policies for the climate emergency.”
This seems true yet makes no sense, given that the single most effective measure humanity can take against the climate crisis is to globally shrink its numbers to sustainability. COVID was and is doing what we have not done voluntarily at large enough scale, and in a relatively palatable manner, targeting mostly the old and compromised. (My father was both; the virus spared him any further Parkinson’s-related decline.)
That said, at a bit under 7 million COVID deaths to date and net global human population growth of 225,000 a day — yes, a day — it is hardly making a dent.

Last edited 9 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
9 months ago

Playing along with your line of argument while not endorsing it:
If you look at the numbers “C0vid” itself did not add to excess m0rtality, at least not to any appreciable extent distinguishable from 1nfluenza (a bad enough k1ller, not to minimise).
The excess m0rtality we are seeing is due to (i) “C0vid”-motivated measures, like “3nd-of-l1fe-pr0t0cols” (i.e. use of leth@l inj3ction drug mid0zalam in old folks’ homes), m@sks, l0ckd0wns, and other su1c1de-inducing and ment@l and physic@l health-suppressing measures, and (ii) “C0vid” sh0ts.
Add to that the fert1l1ty-suppressing effects of the “C0vid” sh0ts and you’re there.
(Apologies for the typography)

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago

And where does this impulse on the Right come from? Mere assertions and dismissing anyone who takes the available evidence seriously as ‘the Left’ is ideology writ large – so anyone who disagrees with you is not a credible source? The crossover effect of conspiracy theories is well established – a good starting point for most of the contributors here (if you’re open to ever changing your mind about anything):
Lewandowsky, Stephan; Oberauer, Klaus (2013). “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax”. Psychological ScienceSAGE Publications24 (5): 622–633.
It’s called motivated reasoning – aka wishful thinking, usually of the free market business as usual variety – which presumably accounts for the pejorative use of ‘Left’.

Last edited 9 months ago by Joe Deegan
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Deegan

Lewandowsky? Seriously? This is your example of an objective scientist. In the paper you cite, they interviewed 1145 people. Only 10 of them thought the moon landing was fake. Of the so called climate change deniers, 98.7% didn’t think the moon landing was fake. Yet he links the two beliefs because of the 10 people who disputed the moon landing, a majority denied climate science as well.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes, it’s a useful entree to the extensive body of work on motivated reasoning; the title is a provocation that draws fire from even the most entrenched silo dwellers. That literature establishes a clear link between clmate change denialism and unbridled free marketism and finds more generally, like Lewandowsky, that climate change deniers are more likely to subscribe to conspiracy theories.

Last edited 9 months ago by Joe Deegan
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Deegan

Let me try wrap my head around this. The title of the study was called;
NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.

Despite the study’s name, only 10 of the 1145 people sampled in the study actually believed the moon landing was fake, and 98.7% of the people identified as climate deniers rejected the claim that the moon landing was fake.

The headline of the study clearly misrepresented the actual findings. Virtually no one believes the moon lending was fake. Now we are supposed to believe that people who strongly believe in the value of free markets also believe in conspiracy theories. Do you think any of this makes sense?

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

As I’ve already said, the title is a provocation in the rhetorical sense of that term. The rhetorical intent is clear, as it’s a statement that would/could only be made by a bonkers conspiracist. The substantive point is not that the few surviving flatearther moonlanding sceptics reject climate change but that climate change denial is associated with a tendency to favour conspiracy theories rather than scientific evidence – a finding confirmed in the extensive related literature, which links climate denial to motivated reasoning that seeks to protect a worldview or ideological position such as free marketism. If you insist on interpreting the title literally, you’re missing the point (or choosing to do so). And don’t ask me for the definitive citation; if you’re at all interested, you’re well capable of googling ‘motivated reasoning’ and judging the evidence for yourself.

Last edited 9 months ago by Joe Deegan
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Deegan

So this is what passes for science today – studies using rhetorical and provocative titles that are misleading?

The whole premise is absurd – that people who support free markets are more likely to reject science for ideological reasons. It’s ridiculous on its face.

The vast majority of people do not reject climate science – they simply reject the hysterical claims made by many in the industry. I would also suggest that studies knowingly using false information for eye-catching titles do more to erode trust in science than someone’s belief in free markets.

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

This Unherd article and most of these posts (including the unarticulated thumbsdown) are patently rhetorical and apparently motivated by a blanket determination to simply ignore or denigrate any data or inference that opposes a libertarian worldview based on the incoherent and antidemocratic received idea of ‘freedom’ as individual rights without regard to our reciprocal responsibilities to others. Again, in the face of adverse events that threaten us all, one man’s  ‘freedom’ is another’s death by disease or drowning. In these circumstances, holding out for a scientifically unattainable absolute certainty before taking preventive action is blindly ideological. In the face of unprecedented events, what is denigrated here as hysterical or authoritarian is in fact a version of the precautionary principle – in this case, that the onus is on the libertarians to prove that their ‘rights’ have no adverse consequences for the welfare of others. Ask a nurse about Covid measures. Ask a polar scientist about sea ice. Ask your children what they think and hope. And ask yourself if the threat to freedom and democracy comes from the collectivists or from the self-serving antivax, antimask, antilockdown, antiEPA individualists like Trump. Rhetorical Jim, but not hysterical, unfounded, or entrenched. 

Last edited 9 months ago by Joe Deegan
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Deegan

I’m absolutely gobsmscked; “holding out for a scientifically unattainable absolute certainty before taking preventive action is blindly ideological.”

The entire climate change industry is built, maintained and driven by blind ideology. We have taken a serious issue and created absolute hysteria, with solutions that will not only fail, but destroy the economic foundation that has benefitted everyone in the west.

Reasonable people with reasonable solutions have long ago been punted to the door. If climate change was anything but ideology, we would build a vast network of nuclear power plants. It’s the only proven way to create reliable, efficient, emission-free electricity.

Instead, we are rolling out solar and wind projects, which cannot possibly meet the energy demands of a thriving, modern society. Meanwhile, we are shutting down nuclear plants, and in Germany, replacing them with coal plants.

We’ve reached a point where people with common sense solutions are considered blind ideologues, and those with unfounded, unrealistic solutions are considered pragmatic. Something ain’t right here.

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I’d be very happy to see a focus on solutions rather than time wasted denying that there’s a problem or that it’s serious. I’m not a tech expert, so I’m agnostic about solutions, as long as they’re sensible and serious. My own view is that the biggest obstacles are the continued extraction of fossil resources, which needs to be over, along with irresponsible efforts to deny that there’s any real problem.
Finally, my reference to scientifically unattainable levels of certainty refers to the standard of proof demanded by those who object that anthropogenic climate change is unproven, an assertion that rests on an illiterate or wilful misunderstanding of the nature of scientific evidence and the unpredictability of complex dynamic systems, which may account for some variation in the projections but offers no reassurance as to the increasing scale of chaotic events and likely tipping points. Given the state we’re in, the burden of proof falls squarely on the denialists.

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Actually, not absurd at all. The premise is misrepresented and much more specific: that climate change denial is largely driven by vested interests who will do whatever it takes – deny the problem, and distort, dissemble, and delay – to protect those interests. History leaves no room for doubt that the more powerful the interests and the bigger the profits, the more brazen the resistance. And they don’t come any bigger than the fossil industries. So, not absurd, just a very inconvenient truth. Much more absurd is the suggestion that the vast majority – at least of those who believe in climate science – would regard efforts to solve the problem as anything other than a matter of urgency. Don’t know what cohort you’re referring to, but I don’t know any of them, and I doubt that it’s a majority view among those under 35.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Confirmatory bias headline forgetting Lock Downs and Net Zero targets espoused and enacted by a Right Wing Govt in the UK – no doubt only because some pinko Blob made them do it…groan.
The poorest can suffer the most from such Policies unless considered amelioration. I think the sensible Left and all the Centrist Dads and Mums well know that and lessons learnt for the future.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

The Johnson Tories, or today’s version, are not even close to being right wing.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Bet the Tory membership would vote for him though given the chance.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago

This is hack journalism at its worst. Epidemiology is an evidence led science, not ‘leftist politics’. A controlled virus can explode into an epidemic if we aren’t careful, it happens regularly. We’ve had three waves of covid over two and a half years or so, there’s no reason to believe we can’t get another this winter. Telling people to be careful isn’t fear mongering, its common sense. There is terrible government complacency right now in the UK, we’re no longer testing hospital staff, the Organisation of National Statistics is no publishing statistics around covid, so we can’t make informed choices. If you want an instance of dodgy manipulation of the populace, there it precisely is.  Hospitals are places where the disease can spread, and where people most likely to be harmed by it gather. This should be a discussion on how quickly we wind down our defences against covid, this guy’s turned it into the politics of paranoia.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

The politics of paranoia? A disease with an average age of mortality of 82, one year greater than the average age of all mortality, presented as a severe threat to all persons such that education, the broad economy, social life and government services, including health, must be shuttered; while at the same time those who really are in danger viz. the aged infirm, are left to die unprotected.

Last edited 9 months ago by Martin Smith
Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Take away the vaccines, masks, lockdowns and overstretched healthcare workers and those stats would look very different.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

229,000 deaths in the UK. 1400 deaths a week at its hight. How in the world is this acceptable? Scores of thousands of people suffering from long covid, God knows how many people made severely ill, but apparently invisible if they don’t actually die. Do you really think that if we hadn’t locked down [even though our govt. botched that] that the economy would have been fine? Its covid that screwed us, not lockdowns, and as I recall, the population started to lock itself down, not being as stupid as the govt. The NHS came near to collapse, and a collapsed NHS can’t treat anyone at all.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

You know, what really pisses me off about your comments, and those of many of your persuasion, is their sheer moral callousness. So ninety percent of covid deaths pre vaccine were of elderly people, that’s just shy of 200,000. I bet you think that simply means 200,000 people ready to shuffle off this mortal coil departing a little earlier. Do you know how covid killed people in the early, pre vaccination days? You cease to be able to use the oxygen that you breathe in, your body struggles to function with this level of oxygen deficit, then your vital organs begin to shut down, then eventually you die. Translate that into experience of suffering and you get this: Desperate struggling for breath, panic, until sheer exhaustion overcomes the terror, and carries you off. Multiply that by 200,000, include the families and that’s a mountain of pain. By the way, if you read Sweden’s covid report [sainted Sweden] you will find that they recognise their inability to protect their elderly population to be a national scandal. Why is this, because you can’t effectively quarantine a huge section of the population if they are dependent on others. You can only protect them by protecting the entire population, as other countries did, more effectively than we did. In all seriousness, You and many others need to take a serious look at your ethics.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

Ah. This kind of fanaticism brings me back to the good old days of Covid lockdowns and mandates. If you refuse to get vaccinated you’re a dirty rotten scoundrel because you’re killing granny. Doesn’t matter that vaccines didn’t prevent the spread, or that pharmaceutical companies didn’t even test for transmission. You’re a piece of garbage period. We didn’t need mandates or lockdowns to protect the vulnerable. Those measures certainly didn’t protect people in senior care homes, although it might have been more successful if we made it an actual priority. We did zero, zilch, nada, nothing for vulnerable people who lived with family members who still had to work outside the home. The went to work, got exposed to the virus and then brought it home. There were no options for them. Of course, they would have taken measures to protect vulnerable people living in their home when they could. Instead of investing all our resources on general bans, we could have used those to protect vulnerable people who didn’t have options.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

How old are you?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

58

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the flu had killed more people this year than Covid.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Flu deaths have hit a five year high so you are right, but that doesn’t build a case for acting as if covid has gone away. Covid is much more dangerous than flu, and we are about to find out how the picture changes without mass vaccination. We have new unknowns and need to be cautious a while longer.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

Epidemiology is an evidence led science

Precisely. 150 years of experience in epidemiology, and what works and what doesn’t, were summarised in the WHO’s September 2019 publication “Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza” (ISBN 978-92-4-151683-9).
Spoiler alert NONE of the measures taken are recommended, for good reason and based on peer-reviewed science.

Joe Deegan
Joe Deegan
9 months ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

Quite a misleading gloss of the findings. In fact the report notes that the existing evidence base is too limited and makes eighteen precautionary recommendations regarding appropriate measures graded by pandemic/epidemic severity.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
9 months ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

Come off it. Covid is a new virus, against which we had no immunity, about which we knew only that it was highly infectious and was killing large numbers of people. Influenza isn’t in the same family of viruses as covid, and isn’t a novel disease against which we had no immunity. This is basic stuff. Covid didn’t arrive until 2020 so what do you think we can learn from a 2019 study of flu?