by Amy Jones
Thursday, 14
October 2021
Idea
07:00

The question the Covid report failed to answer

What is most revealing about the new study is what it leaves out
by Amy Jones
Credit: Getty

The media has wasted no time in using the publication of the highly anticipated Covid report as a stick to beat the Government.

The charge made by the report is, unsurprisingly, a familiar one: that we should have locked down sooner. That is in spite of the fact that the scientific advice at the time — early March 2020 — was to not lock down, and that lockdowns had been previously discouraged by the WHO. Nor was there much mention of the health and societal impacts of lockdown, the data for which is slowly beginning to emerge. Just this week, a new Lancet report found soaring levels of depression over the last 18 months, noting:

With school closures and wider social restrictions in place, young people have been unable to come together in physical spaces, affecting their ability to learn and for peer interaction. Furthermore, young people are more likely to become unemployed during and following economic crises than older people
- The Lancet

It continued:

Strategies to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, such as physical distancing and restricted travel, have made it more difficult to acquire medication, attend treatment facilities, and receive in-person care.
- The Lancet

Some will of course argue that an earlier lockdown would have meant a shorter lockdown, thus eliminating many of the mental and physical health problems associated with staying at home for extended periods of time. But it’s worth bearing in mind that Australia — regularly touted as a success story for locking down early and flattening the curve —  has a city like Melbourne, which has spent over 250 days in lockdown.

So it is unclear where this advice leaves us. Covid-19 may have been the only pandemic we locked down for, but it is far from the only pandemic in living memory. Considering that the risk of pandemics is increasing year on year due, in part, to increased urbanisation and habitat loss, should we be expected to lock down for each and every threat? If that is our response, this will have massive implications for our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy.

Another galling feature of the report is the way it glosses over how under-resourced the NHS was at the time. After all, the decision to lock down in March 2020 was to “protect the NHS”, which was already in a vulnerable state. A better question for the report, then, might have been why the NHS was in such bad shape in the first place?

This question was barely answered, let alone addressed. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that one of its writers, Jeremy Hunt, was himself responsible for overseeing a significant fall in the value of the NHS PPE stockpile during his years as Health Secretary. But maybe that just slipped his mind…

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
7 months ago

The left are completely out of control and will remain so until people start getting it into their heads that the left ARE “The Establishment” and have been for fifty years. And the left has no concept of individual liberty. The consequence is that the atavistic reaction to any problem is always statist authoritarianism. And it’s no use claiming that the UK has a Conservative government. At this juncture, the Tories are so far removed from Burkean conservatism as to be practically equivalent to “The Trust”, the supposedly anti-Bolshevik Russian resistance which was actually controlled by Lenin back in the 1920s. Until somebody in government grows a set and starts trusting people — and their immune systems — instead of ideology and infinitely variable “best practice”, I’d start preparing to spend long periods in isolation.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago

We can’t sit back and wait for someone in government to do that. We need to take our power back as individuals. That means non-violent civil disobedience and non-compliance, especially if they start trying things on again. Don’t comply with testing, masking, staying at home, showing your electronic papers, revealing your private medical history to nightclub bouncers, whatever it is they demand: don’t do it if clashes with your basic liberties and you don’t want to do it. It will be hard, we may suffer, we may be excluded, we may at first be castigated as selfish or dangerous and be shunned by those previously close to us, some of us may even lose our jobs – just as, for example, many Vietnam war protestors or the WWI conscientious objectors did – but whatever happens at least we will come out with our integrity and conscience intact. I suspect though if a small but critical mass does this the rest will follow and it will all come crashing down before much longer. We’ll then rebuild and help our bewildered compatriots who had fallen under the spell come to terms with what they were manipulated, coerced or tricked into being a small part of – just as happened in post-war Germany. Enough is enough.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Ideally this experiment should be conducted on an island with no vulnerable people. It could then provide useful evidence on the transmissibility of the Covid virus without killing anyone.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

Oh, please! This is just silly stuff. You simply define ‘The Left’ as anyone who doesn’t agree with you, and ‘Conservatism’ as the opposite! If you believe that political parties in a democracy can for decades ignore social change and act in a way contrary to public opinion, for example on the NHS, while still gaining power, you must have a strange idea of politics.

The Conservatives are in power, as they have been for two thirds of the time since World War 2, we have very high levels of inequality, plenty of right-wing governments have also acted in a ln authoritarian manner (have you noticed Hungary’s approach to covid?), the Conservatives have never had a rigid ideology, except possibly under Thatcher who certainly was not a statist. But previous Tory governments and the current one were much more so.

No doubt you’d prefer the good old Church and Monarchy Tories opposed to democracy, as they then were!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
7 months ago

As lockdowns don’t work effectively and their harms are so great, it beggars belief that some people are still beating the lockdown drum. I guess they have to double down because they don’t want to reverse – also knowing that there is a sizable chunk of people with food on the table and money in the bank (or money coming in regularly), who want to sit around in their jammies working, or pretending to work, or simply watching reality TV.

Last edited 7 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
7 months ago

The case numbers show that lockdowns are very effective at promptly reducing new infections. The question is therefore what next. To eliminate the virus the lockdown has to be as strict as it was in China and the country has to close borders very tightly. European countries did not try this. Had the first UK lockdown started a week earlier the peak in cases and deaths would have been halved. That would have saved a substantial number of lives. Had the January lockdown started ten days earlier it too would have saved a substantial number of lives. What the article does not address is that the shortage of intensive care beds triggered the timing of the lockdown because the Government was frightened the NHS would be overwhelmed. More beds could have delayed the lockdown with higher cases numbers and even more deaths. Ditto in January. Those that think that cases would have petered out anyway without a lockdown need to look at the correlation between cases and government actions on social distancing throughout the World. Sweden found cases continued to rise and social distancing was needed. What we need to learn is what sort of social distancing is sufficient to keep R below 1. It is not a full lockdown but nor is it nothing. Or we need to be better at isolating the vulnerable.

David Slade
David Slade
7 months ago

Thank you. Sensible commentary to balance out Tom Chivers from yesterday.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago

Another galling feature of the report is the way it glosses over how under-resourced the NHS was at the time. After all, the decision to lock down in March 2020 was to “protect the NHS”, which was already in a vulnerable state. A better question for the report, then, might have been why the NHS was in such bad shape in the first place?
To paraphrase MRD, the author being a GP and doin very nicely thank you would sat that wouldn’t he/she.
Current annual expenditure on the NHS exceeds 200 billion. How much will be enough? The answer is that thee will never be enough and toy will never get an answer from anyone connected with the NHS that does not involve more resource and more money.
I have worked for the NHS and its main problem is that it exists to serve the needs of the people who work in it (or don’t) and not the patient and this was inevitably going to be the case from its inception.
As structured there is no incentive for the NHS to be efficient or cost effective or for those that it employs to work hard or do a passible imitation of making a reasonable effort at it. However much money you throw at it this will never change.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
7 months ago

A senior NHS manager was interviewed on TV last time the government gave them a pile of cash. When asked what they were going to do with it, they said ‘well our hard working staff really need a pay rise’.
Nuff said really.
Most of the additional cash Brown gave to the NHS just increased wages through ‘Agenda for Change’.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Yes, but there are severe staff shortages, so on this basis at least some wages SHOULD rise.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

GP s are private businesses, a fact that is hilariously and routinely ignored across the political spectrum! The MRD comment of course ultimately implies that no one with any inside knowledge of any institution can make any comment or suggestion at all!

The NHS has many faults, but there is certainly not enough spare intensive care capacity. My mother recently died in a room shared with 3 other patients; there was simply no other space available.

Other health systems spend more than the UK. All health systems in advanced countries with aging populations and expensive medicines cost a significant proportion of the nation’s wealth, so one way or another we need to pay (if we want those cancer treatments etc).

You can argue that we never will spend enough through a solely taxation based system, and I would tend to agree. And perhaps there could be more efficiencies, but note, this too needs investment ‘what, all that money for a decent database rather than more ventilators, dialysis machines or whatever?!’ Probably the best single reform would be that fully integrated information system. In any case, there is constant tension between increasing spending on the NHS and the desire not to raise taxes on the other.

The Tories have just announced a tax increase. They know full well that being seen to be against the NHS would be politically toxic for them.

Last edited 7 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

If one appoints a number of managers, the first thing they’ll do is to employ personal assistants, and find offices, which need cleaning and other services, and then they find they need more assistants and managers, etc., etc..
Then the politicians, worried about cost, ask for savings. The managers notice that costs are to a great extent proportional to the number of beds (they need buildings, heating, cleaning etc.), so they close wards, merge hospital services, and can look full of ideas and extremely busy. Meanwhile, the real work is disrupted.
It’s a cycle well know to management consultants who are called in to failing businesses, especially by people who know they’re not actually qualified to solve the problem – but that’s another money pit.

Laura Pritchard
Laura Pritchard
7 months ago

The point that was made was, the report does not address the main reason stated at the time for lockdowns – to support an NHS incapable of coping. I don’t know why that became a rant about how much people in the NHS are paid. Certainly one thing that is constantly overlooked, in my opinion, is existing staff shortages at the time and significant absences since due to sickness or quarantine. Remember the fact that they could never staff the Nightingale Hospitals? Amy is right. Let’s start asking the right questions, for a change. You may believe there will never be enough money for the NHS or that the people that work there get paid too much or that there are too many inefficiencies. So what questions should be asked? One of mine would be, with all the emergency laws that were instituted, why was there no mechanism to utilise the million people who instantly volunteered to help with the health crisis? Another would be what aspects of health do we consider to be triple locked regardless of cost? Another would be what constitutes a healthy life and how did or didn’t lockdowns contribute to that? And, in the meantime, let’s get rid of all this hindsight, shall we?

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago

To quote the exec summary of the report: “a degree of groupthink that was present … The UK, along with many other countries in Europe and North America made a serious early error in adopting this fatalistic approach and not considering a more emphatic and rigorous approach to stopping the spread of the virus as adopted by many East and South East Asian countries“.

You really could not make this stuff up. Hats off to Xi and his propagandists, they really have done a number on us. Parliament has failed in its most basic duties. God help us.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

No . Xi and his propagandists have not done a number on us. They didn’t have to. WE did it to ourselves.
They must be just as surprised as the astounded western public .

So, with all our knowledge and superior understanding of science, all we could come up with was “follow the communists”. This has been the most disturbing conclusion of the last two years for me.

I expected nothing different from the Covid report panel. I have not been disappointed.

I do remain convinced that it was better to have waited to jump onto the same band wagon even though disappointingly we did jump on it.

Last edited 7 months ago by Alka Hughes-Hallett
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
7 months ago

Thailand, Singapore, Japan, are not communists.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
7 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Singapore is authoritarian though. Japan seemed to take a more relaxed approach until hosting the Olympics required them to change tack (probably due to a combination of outside pressure and the public opposition to the games).

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

It is the sold out media that has done a number on us and continues to do so. As Napoleon said: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”
What he would have made of the myriad tentacles of modern, corporate media we can only imagine. The main stream news media is now busily decrying the ‘misinformation’ found on social media while they themselves have pumped it out throughout this pandemic. Remember how they condemned those who dared to say that the source of the virus was a possible lab leak?

Last edited 7 months ago by Glyn Reed
Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
7 months ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

In America, the polls show people overwhelmingly dislike negative political ads, yet these ads are shown to be the most effective. The same people claim to distrust the media, yet this media is in total control of what people think. It’s hopeless. Time to throw in the towel, and just live the best life you can.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago
Reply to  Karl Schuldes

Agree with the analysis, disagree with half of the the conclusion. Time to stand up and (peacefully) fight, and just live the best life you can.

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

I suppose you’re right.

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

The most worrying aspect of he last 18 months has been the media. They miss no opportunity to normalise authoritarian government. No attempt is made to examine an alternative approach.
For example whenever Sweden is mentioned, the BBC just shouts ‘they have fared far worse than Norway’ without mentioning that they did far better than us, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium etc, without closing a single school or any but a handful of businesses.
Also, the downside of lockdown is rarely examined, only the fact that if we lockdown earlier we will save lives.
The latest trend appears to be to champion continued distancing/ muzzling to save us from colds and ‘flu. The reason appears to be that we haven’t been exposed to anything for 18 months so have to protect ourselves as exposure would now be worse. Nobody asks what it would be like if we have avoided using our immune systems for another year or two? Presumably, we must maintaining distancing and muzzling forever as the cold will be a killer in a tear or two.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
7 months ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

You’re right. It’s almost as if the owners of some enormously powerful corporations and their buddies in politics had some kind of interest in keeping most other people physically weak, mentally fearful, and psychologically or medically dependent on their products. And, perhaps, as if they just might pursue that interest through manipulative PR and advertising, falsification and obfuscation of scientific research and trial data, corruption of public officials, and manipulation of the media. And, although that would be totally shocking, and it’s definitely not something that has ever happened before (cough, splutter, where are my cigs?) and so of course no-one’s to blame for failing to spot it, it is something that many of those busy people sitting in positions of leadership and authority in the media and across our society might have to begin to conceive as just about being within the bounds of possibility, even if it is just a teensy-weesy bit scary, and even if it means that the horror of their part in conjuring the nightmare starts to reveal itself to them, all its sordid detail.

It could all flip round so quickly – think about what happened to Savile and Weinstein when the truth broke the banks of their and their minders’ rivers of lies. Same thing could happen here. We’ll need to be ready with lifeboats and hot water bottles to help the guilty come to terms with what they have done and start to repair the trust that they have so badly damaged. Most of the guilty are not fundamentally bad people, but they are like all of us fundamentally flawed. It’s those behind the curtains of the wizardry that we should show little if any mercy for – identifying them and holding them to account will be the key challenge, rather than finding an Eichmann to hang.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
7 months ago

Considering that the risk of pandemics is increasing year on year due, in part, to increased urbanisation and habitat loss, should we be expected to lock down for each and every threat? 
Rubbish. The threat is out of control scientists being given free rein to play God with viruses using their new tool box and saying trust us we are the experts

Last edited 7 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
7 months ago

It’s difficult to argue against scientific research ‘tout court’ The threat is using labs with the same level of biosecurity as your local dentist.

D Glover
D Glover
7 months ago

NHS Health Trusts have extremely well-paid managers. I believe they earn salaries in excess of a government minister. Aren’t they responsible for maintaining stocks of PPE? Is it the job of Jeremy Hunt or Matt Hancock to know if there are enough masks and gloves in store?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
7 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

And who is responsible for reserve stocks at care homes? In the event, almost everyone who was not the government found it convenient to take it as an axiom that the government is responsible for stocks, purchasing, and distribution – a colossal task to solve is a matter of days.
I don’t say that someone somewhere in government shouldn’t have planned for a world pandemic, concluding amongst other things that relying on flying stuff in from China at short notice has a flaw in it, but it would not be a politician, and it would need to be years in advance. Jeremy Hunt was no doubt shared his first-hand experience with the committees.

John Potts
John Potts
7 months ago

To add to Amy Jones’ points, it is worth remembering that the advice from WHO in early March 2020 was not to close borders and against face masks. This advice was changed later of course, but in early March 2020 this stood. And the Government was meant to ignore the advice of the WHO?
For the record, on 9 March 2020, the day that Italy began its national lockdown, the UK had these Covid figures:
The country’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons 319 cases had been confirmed as of Monday morning (GMT) and it was announced that a fourth and a fifth victim had died. (source: Guardian 9 March 2020).
A week later, these:
Elsewhere in Europe, which the World Health Organization described as the centre of the pandemic, France has 4,500 cases and 91 deaths, Germany has 11 deaths and more than 5,700 infections, the Netherlands has 20 deaths and 2,270 infections, Switzerland has 14 deaths and 2,200 infections, and the UK has 21 deaths and 1,144. (source: Guardian 16 March 2020)
The then Prime Minister of Italy, replying to subsequent criticism that Italy itself had locked down too late on 9 March, asked how anyone would have accepted the total disruption to the economy, their businesses and livelihoods, their education, their freedom of movement etc when figures for Italy as a whole (outside the small isolated areas of Lombardia that had been sealed off) in February were as low as they were.
The same could be said for the situation in the UK on 9 March: the entire nation must close down because of 319 cases? Nobody would have accepted that, in my view.
These figures would rapidly and catastrophically worsen – but on 9 March, those were the figures – 319 cases and 5 deaths – that would have been used to justify a national lockdown.

Ailsa Roddie
Ailsa Roddie
7 months ago

You have remained such a voice of reason throughout this and I am so grateful for it.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
7 months ago

It is difficult to argue rationally in an atmosphere of mass psychosis. The fact that there are a lot of old and unhealthy people, while health care systems have been gutted by decades of neoliberal policies, makes it nigh impossible to get out of this. Which suits the powers that be just fine, as it means more control and more wealth concentration (the machine’s primary goal).

The system is bumping into all kinds of limits, but it will take care of these limits on its own terms, through technology and totalitarianism. The idea that fundamental changes to the system would be a more rational approach, is clearly off limits. Hence the mass psychosis.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
7 months ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

An excellent summary. Meanwhile healthy individuals at vanishingly small risk of serious illness from Covid are forced to surrender their liberty to protect the, among other more deserving cases, many tens of thousands of people who routinely ignore their health and have developed co-morbidities such as type 2 diabetes, cvd, hypertension and metabolic syndrome (an epidemic that has been slowly overwhelming health care for decades now), In return nothing is required from these terminal sickies. Indeed they righteously demand that others must show their papers and carry on wearing a largely useless rag on their face to make them all ‘safe’. Evolution in reverse: underpinned by the’food’ companies which fill rows of supermarket shelves with poisonous products, and the ‘medical’ professionals who readily supply ‘medicines’ to keep the self made sickness ‘victims’ alive, whereas mother nature has sent Covid to finish them off.

Last edited 7 months ago by Martin Smith
Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
7 months ago

We won’t get a useful review of the covid saga for 5 or 10 years. Not until those currently in decision making positions have moved on.
there are just too many reputations at risk for a proper independent view to be formed
this includes politicians, scientists and the media, all of which are at fault in one way or another