Pandemic policy manipulated, rather than informed, the public
A new inquiry by the charity Sense about Science, which aims to improve the use of science in public policy, claims that the Government’s top-down attitude to the Covid-19 pandemic may have hindered the public’s ability to respond, and even caused unnecessary harm.
The inquiry used testimony from expert witnesses combined with new population surveys to analyse the impact of the Government’s approach and communications during the pandemic. It found that, rather than empowering individuals to make sensible decisions based on risk and knowledge about the pandemic, the government instead chose to focus on simplistic slogans, such as ‘hands, face, space’ and stringent universal rules.
By focusing on such paternalistic messaging, the government at times misled the public, for example leading people to believe that their risk of infection was higher than it actually was (the inquiry notes this is particularly true of children and the young.) In an attempt to increase compliance with the rules — even after evidence showed a huge disparity in risk for different age groups — the Government continued to imply that Covid didn’t discriminate.
This meant that groups at lower risk, such as children, were subject to stringent, harmful restrictions, the impact of which could have been reduced or avoided. It also meant that resources weren’t adequately allocated to those who were most at risk. As such, there was a failure to consider the cost of different interventions, which should be standard practice for policy decisions.
Modelling scenarios, for example, did not consider the harm of school closures, and therefore failed to consider optimal strategies for keeping children in school. The Government failed to effectively communicate the rationale behind such policy decisions, instead simply issuing blanket decrees — something which harmed people’s ability to adequately judge risks. In the first few months of the pandemic, the inquiry found that 60% of policies were set out in press releases, rather than in policy documents, and around 90% provided no clear link to the available evidence behind policy decisions.
The findings of the report are hardly surprising. Since the early days of the pandemic, it has been apparent that, rather than following the standard public health approach of communication and empowerment, the government opted for paternalism and authoritarianism. Rather than equipping the population with the information and resources (including adequate sick pay) necessary to protect themselves from Covid, with particular focus on the vulnerable, the Government — cheered on by the Left — chose a path of restrictions, punishment and criminalisation for all.
As we begin the process of recovering from the pandemic, inquiries such as this one serve as a necessary reminder of how far from the normal path of science communication and public health the government strayed over the past two years.