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The UK Covid Inquiry is turning into a whitewash

The Inquiry claimed that Boris Johnson and his cabinet were like "wild animals". Credit: Getty

November 11, 2023 - 8:00am

The UK Covid Inquiry is fast becoming an expensive national disgrace. Rather than investigating the accuracy of mainstream narratives, it has become dominated by gossip, political theatre and the reputation management of pro-lockdown scientists. 

The British public deserves better: we need an independent scientific evaluation to challenge the simplifications and mythologies being perpetuated by the inquiry.  

More than ÂŁ100 million has been spent so far, with the total bill until 2026 estimated to top half-a-billion pounds. Yet media headlines, based on WhatsApp messages and testimony from senior officials, again followed the political pageantry this week: Boris Johnson and his government did not “follow the science” and acted like “wild animals.” They were “mad” and “poisonous”, wanted “bodies to pile up high”, thought of promoting Chickenpox-style parties, and possibly to be injected with Covid on TV. 

This Shakespearean drama will not help us better respond to the next pandemic. To those who naively believed “the science” and the scientific establishment would be under scrutiny itself, hopes of an objective and serious investigation have evaporated.

There are many reasons for this. Beyond a legal structure that has over-represented the voices of bereaved families, one only needs to look as far as the output of various leading figures from the pandemic. From Jeremy Farrar’s (former director of the Wellcome Trust, and now Chief Scientist at the WHO) account in his book Spike to Richard Horton (the editor of The Lancet) and Guardian columnist prof. Devi Sridhar, all clearly show that those who supported greater restrictions were correct. Finally, we cannot minimise the political climate: Labour barely differed from the Tories in their attitude to lockdown — only that it wanted it harder and faster.

Something more needs to be done, and fast. Other countries offer some examples, albeit imperfect. In Canada, where the liberal Trudeau government has resisted an inquiry so far, an unofficial “National Citizen’s Inquiry” has been established. Meanwhile in Australia, a group of philanthropists have funded an independent inquiry. In the US, attempts have been made, for example by the Norfolk Group, to outline the critical scientific questions that remain unanswered. There is also an ongoing House Select Sub-committee on Covid, led by the Republicans, although this is mostly concerned with Covid origins.

British civil society is alive and well, with a growing chorus of public intellectuals, scientists and media seeing through the biases of the inquiry, willing to ask for a more clear-headed analysis. But more should be done to hold the government and scientific community to account. Active debate between different positions should be encouraged in public forums. Reviews and analyses need to be conducted to plug evidence gaps. And efforts need to be made in academia to apply greater self-reflection and critical thinking. 

In short: those engaged in serious scientific and policy debate about the accuracy of the mainstream position should join together more formally and support an independent evaluation. With the current state of the inquiry, this may be the only way to answer the hard questions (should we lockdown next time?) and avoid what is becoming a disappointing whitewash.


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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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago

The best scientific analysis currently available on the effects of lockdowns is a meta analysis conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, titled: A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality,”
The study found that lockdowns in Europe and the U.S. reduced COVID-19 deaths by only 0.2 percent.
The researchers found “no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality,”
The study concluded that lockdowns “are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”

For the Inquiry to proceed on the assumption that lockdowns worked, when the best scientific evidence available, from a world renowned institution, is that they were almost inconsequential and had unjustifiable monstrous social and economic consequences, is disgraceful.

Last edited 8 months ago by Marcus Leach
D Glover
D Glover
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Thank you. That’s the sort of reporting that responsible journals ought to be doing for us.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Is almost as if the actual pandemic response plans (the ones that were ignored or discarded) were bang on.

T Bone
T Bone
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Yes but you cut your CO2 emissions didn’t you? Ze ends justify ze means!

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

It’s a pretty basic paper and just looks at simple correlations between the first lockdowns and mortality. The fact that there isn’t one can largely be explained by the fact that countries which were heavily affected by the first wave locked down after the virus was already established in the population, especially in care homes and hospitals where the vulnerable populations mean it’s elimination was much more difficult and more deadly. Whilst counties which locked down before the virus had gained a greater foothold, more through luck than judgment, avoided higher mortality rates initially.

None of this means lockdowns don’t prevent transmission, there is a decent correlation between restrictions being brought in and the virus subsiding and there is correlation between the prevalence of the virus and mortality rates. It can however be argued that the point at which lockdowns becomes effective may be at lower end of the stringency index and that total lockdowns are not necessary, this is certainly a plausible hypothesis.

Ultimate it is very difficult to judge lockdown success purely based on mortality rates. Deaths rates varied throughout populations and were not always well correlated with exposure and we don’t full know why that is. The viral variant, demographic profile and health of the populace, health care quality and availability, environmental and factors such and climatic conditions, interaction with other pathogens and underlying genetic predispositions all play a role and many of these variables are still poorly understood.

What this means is that it’s extremely difficult to say x country didn’t lockdown as hard and they have less deaths, so locking down less equals less deaths. In fact it would seem to be a logical absurdity, given that we know that countries which locked down and closed borders saw a reduction in overall mortality initially, to say that locking down less could have reduced mortality figures in countries with higher figures. What may be plausible is that the lockdowns did not need to be as harsh to prevent transmission.

There’s been a real lack of proper cost being it analysis done around the pandemic and i am of the opinion that lockdowns were too strict and went on for too long but it doesn’t follow that they were totally unnecessary nor does this paper prove the case.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
8 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

good perspective thanks

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

A quarter of UK students missed 10% or more of their possible classes in the school year 2022/23 – a rate of absenteeism more than double the pre-lockdown level. There is a mental health crisis made demonstrably worse by lockdown. National debt surged from 80% to 100% of GDP during lockdown- an increase of half a trillion pounds. Interest on government debt rose as a result to ÂŁ94 billion this year, compared to ÂŁ40 billion in 2018/19 – now more than the education budget, and triple what we spend on defence. Inflation peaked at over 11%. There are record NHS waiting lists and an excess death rate which cannot be explained by Covid. And all this “inquiry” can do is focus on rude words in WhatsApp.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I spent 2020 teaching 300 UGs online. As a joke i tell people if you ever need a bedroom designer, I’m your woman, because I’ve seen so many of them. But obviously that hides a heap of misery. Our mental health services are over-whelmed, statements of reasonable adjustments (mitigation based on medical issues) have exploded, and the young people returning are more withdrawn.
And in addition to the explosion in debt levels, the Bank of England made a calamatous error in excessive money expansion creating inflation.
A generational impact and no accountability. How could there be when we are not even prepared to face our errors in the spirit of “inquiry”?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

And we cannot forget that 165 million people across the globe were pushed into $2 a day poverty because of the lockdowns.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I remember half a billion.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago

“The UK Covid Inquiry is fast becoming an expensive national disgrace.”
Really? How astonishing, what did you expect?

From the Post Office scandal, to HS2, the Grenfell Enquiry, and the recent vexatious prosecution of Colonel Bob, Stewart this country has become a cesspit of cant and deceit.

And no, it was NOT ‘forever thus’.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
8 months ago

The author states that ‘leading figures from the pandemic’ Jeremy Farrer, Richard Horton, Devi Sridhar ‘all clearly show that those who supported greater restrictions were correct.’ Shurely shome mishtake here,editor.

michael harris
michael harris
8 months ago

Hallet, chair of this Whitehall farce, on masking…’I don’t understand. If there’s a benefit how can there be a downside?’
As clear a marker of low intelligence as can be found. This person is a judge?!
And the senior civil servants? Sir Humphrey was a paragon of intelligence and knowledge in comparison.
This, for God’s sake, is the ruling elite? And learned commentators beat their brains still about Britain’s decline.

Ian S
Ian S
8 months ago

So a senior representative of the discredited WHO led by a CCP non-scientist shill, the editor of the political rag Lancet and a Guardian columnist – is that all you’ve got? You are right about the enquiry likely to be a whitewash, but not in the way that you have in mind

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
8 months ago

Turning into ?

It was obviously going to be a combo of back-covering, mud-slinging, score-settling and performative retroactive trauma-signalling from the start.

Are you awake yet ?

AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

I expected the COVID Inquiry to be a bit of a whitewash – noble politicians struggling against impossible odds etc.
What surprises me is how poorly the whitewash is slapped on, and with such a big brush. Only the wrong lessons will be learned here.
Present the Inquiry as a means of settling political grudges and it’s doing a fine job.

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Inquiries have clearly become part of the problem of contemporary Western paralysis. Exercises in buck-passing, agenda-pushing, pocket-lining that merely affirming what you could have read in a quality journal for ÂŁ8.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

How has this thing already cost 100 mill pounds? How is that even possible?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Corruption

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Institutional corruption – if it’s the police that are institutionally corrupt (racist) it’s generalised out to every policeman – they are all guilty, should be ashamed, and need to work on themselves personally etc; if it’s the ruling class, it’s diffused into benign nothingness. I even recall Jonathan Sumption (who I otherwise deeply respect) semi-joking that there was no problem that 10/12 Law Lords went to Eton/Harrow followed by Oxbridge – ‘where else do you expect to find the best people’ (paraphrased).

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago

The problem is that the press and the left wanted a grand inquisition with guaranteed verdicts of guilty. It is turning out to be so complex that nothing will be resolved and we will be left with screams and moans from those that hate this country and nearly everyone in it about how it was murder, corruption, deliberate, fraud. It is completely lacking any good faith.

Rachel Taylor
Rachel Taylor
8 months ago

You don’t need to look at the inquiry. You only need to look at the cost. It is a gigantic lawyers’ boondoggle, with many antique cars, wine cellars, public school fees and second homes to be funded in the process.
It would be perfectly easy to define about 5 questions that need to be answered. and to commission 5 expert committees to answer them. Total cost, about ÂŁ10m.
But that is not the aim of the inquiry. The aim is to post rationalise every decision made in the greatest collective hysteria in the history of the British State.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
8 months ago

It doesn’t need saying or writing. The UK can’t wipe its backside.

John Pade
John Pade
8 months ago

There are control groups whose experiences indicate whether lockdowns, masks, etc. were effective. Among them are Sweden and Florida. Both show that restrictive measures either were useless or almost useless.
Scientists knew very early that Covid was a disease of the old, the sick, and especially the old and sick. Measures protecting these groups while leaving others alone would have captured, say, 99% of the restrictions’ benefits and avoided about the same percentage of their costs.
And then you had people like Governor Cuomo of New York forbidding nursing homes from denying Covid patients admission for reasons known only to him that resulted in 100% needless deaths.

Mrs R
Mrs R
8 months ago

No turning about it. It was intended to be a whitewash and once again they’re robbing the British taxpayer to fund it.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
8 months ago

I must admit I watched and greatly enjoyed Hugo Keith KC interrogating Dominic Cummings and reading out of selections from Dom’s vigorous use of various Anglo-Saxon colloquialisms in a tone of appalled incredulity. Apparently, these terms are never used in barristers’ chambers. While I would never doubt the word of a lawyer, if this is true then they must be rare relics of a bygone age when the English were regarded as amongst the politest in the world. American friends tell me that these days they are startled by how much we swear and, in particular, how commonplace the use of a word beginning with c has become compared to New York.

The subversive idea occurred to me that it would be interesting to put both the judge and counsel under oath and ask them whether they had ever themselves used short words beginning with f or c in the last ten years. It might have reassured us that we were not witnessing an exercise in posturing, hypocrisy and synthetic outrage in order to give the media some material and the inquiry some publicity.

It is possible, however, that my own standards are even lower than those now conventional since I was an army brat then worked in the City. Neither institution relies exclusively on politeness for emphasis. I am not sure I have ever fully recovered from attending a very formal and sombre military service as an six year old when the silence was punctured first by a corporal stubbing his toe and saying “f___” only to be followed by the Regimental Sergeant Major, with unrivalled voice production, bellowing out “Do not use profanity in House of the Lord, Corporal _____, you stupid c____. “ and the entire congregation collapsing with mirth. Maybe Dom would have been more at home in the military than politics.

As for the inquiry, you never know. Sometimes the judge seems to be interrogating the material assiduously only to write a mouse of a report. On other occasions, they appear to be half asleep throughout proceedings but then savage the wrong doers and produce a really useful list of well targeted reforms. You cannot tell so it is best just to wait.

Simon Phillips
Simon Phillips
8 months ago

It was all Boris’ fault.
We should have locked down earlier harder and for longer
Did I mention it was all Boris’ fault.
Err, that’s it.
There it is, the final conclusions, could have saved the country a fortune.

Last edited 8 months ago by Simon Phillips
j watson
j watson
8 months ago

So far as the Inquiry goes we’re on module 2 out of 7.
Govt clearly delayed it as much as they could for political reasons. There is a case for saying the Inquiry could move faster too. They seem to work a short day compared to the rest of us! But nonetheless everything indicates it’s going to be v thorough. In fact the time delay is probably giving more time for the evidence that some of the longer term consequences were poorly assessed or understood be collated and captured.
The ‘theatre; element was always going to be module 2 and not finished yet with Bojo yet to come – and of course it will be vital to hear him answer key questions and he made all the key decisions.
Author gives away too easily his own bias.

Last edited 8 months ago by j watson
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

“ Govt clearly delayed it as much as they could for political reasons”. Germany locked down on 22nd March 2020; the UK locked down on 23rd March.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephen Walsh
j watson
j watson
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I was referring to the the Inquiry commencing SW. Apols could have been clearer

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Sorry, I misread that.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

BoJo wanted a lockdown only for those at risk. He was shouted down by civilians and the media. I heard this speech clear as day.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

He was the PM. He makes the decisions. If you are weak you blow with the wind, which is essentially what you are saying he did.
That said I don’t think LD 1 was avoidable.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago
Reply to  j watson

How do you define LD1? “Two weeks to flatten the curve?”

I agree the bojo was weak. Politicians everywhere allowed unelected medical bureaucrats to make their decisions for them, and hid behind them.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

Yes perhaps a debate about the length of LD1 – could it have been less, could it have started earlier, what metrics determined it’s length. All things I hope the Inquiry assesses. But still v much of a mind unavoidable given what was happening by mid March.
2 wks would not have made slightest difference to transmission rate, but whether it needed to be the 4+mths it was an important question. LD2 and 3 certainly beg some much more testing questions.

Robbie K
Robbie K
8 months ago

Something more needs to be done, and fast. Other countries offer some examples, albeit imperfect.

Absolutely hilarious.
In other words, the official enquiry hasn’t supported the notions of conspiracy theorists, so ‘what needs to be done’ is set up ‘independent enquiries’ funded by the usual suspects that will do so.

Andrea X
Andrea X
8 months ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I too find the suggestion rather unpalatable, but I do disagree with your sentiment because the way this inquiry is being reported is indeed all gossip and whitewash and nothing of substance.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

You think it better to just assume lockdowns were an unquestionably beneficial policy, rather than to thoroughly interrogate scientifically whether the unprecedented suspension of our civil liberties, the hundreds of billions in cost, the severe damage to children’s development and a 7-8 year NHS backlog, was a price worth paying?

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

A report published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last month estimated that the measures there saved about 20,000 lives. There were about 3,500 deaths.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

Well according to Worldometer, New Zealand has had 5,000 Covid deaths, and Ireland (with a near identical population) has had 9,300. And Ireland was not able to lock itself off from the rest of the world. So 20,000 seems rather a stretch. In any case, the number of elderly lives temporarily “saved” has to be weighed against the number of young lives damaged – educationally, economically, and psychologically – by Covid measures.

Geoff W
Geoff W
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The varying length and severity of lockdowns could account for the differing proportions of lives (reportedly) saved in the two countries.
Don’t talk to me about elderly lives being weighed against young ones, talk to your parents or grandparents. Alternatively, talk about differing levels of isolation for the two groups.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
8 months ago
Reply to  Geoff W

yes but NZ is an island 1000miles from civilisation – so not comparable with most other situations – so it did make some sense to do a partial lockdown at least if only to maximise the time available to protect the old and infirm….I doubt the 20,000 lives though. I would like clarification of the death certificate practices ie main cause of death vs ‘with covid’. My sister had she died ‘with covid’ was struggling with terminal cancer so ??? My dad died of old age (97 yrs) during the beginnings of covid – they did not bother to test him – but if he had had a dose then he would have added to the statistic ! it seems to m e that the numbers were manipulated to support a particular narrative that was non-scientific to say the least. Friends of mine with high blood pressure isolated themselves and certainly did not need government coercion to do that – I guess that was because they were grownups and self responsible vs expecting or relying on a nanny state to somehow ‘look after’ them…….