The truth about that No 10 Covid briefing
Attempts to prove that the PM favours a 'herd immunity strategy' don't wash
The Sunday Times “Insight” team’s latest long read contains an audacious attempt to resurrect the old favoured critique of Boris Johnson’s opponents: namely, that he and his Government have been insufficiently activist in response to Covid-19. The charge is so far off that it would almost be amusing were the times not so grave — has any nominally libertarian, Conservative leader in history presided over more all-encompassing interventions and restrictions to peoples’ liberty than Boris Johnson has this past year?
The framing for this attack requires some key ingredients to be considered a journalistic “win” against the Government. First, it must be shown that the Prime Minister received scientific advice which he ignored, with negative effects; second, it must be shown that concerns about the economy drove the decision to ignore it (because evil, greedy Tories); and ideally, just for added colour, some evidence that he and his circle are still secretly entertaining a “herd immunity strategy” — which must go down as one of the most misleading phrases of this year (and there have been a few).
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The Sunday Times piece does an impressive job of marshalling all three. It focuses on a briefing the PM received from Sunetra Gupta, Carl Heneghan, Anders Tegnell and John Edmunds of SAGE at the end of September and claims that he followed the advice of the first three scientists and therefore overruled John Edmunds’ calls for an immediate “circuit breaker” lockdown — with disastrous consequences. Twitter today has been predictably full of voices expressing dismay at this revelation.
But, quite apart from the absence of any mention of what we now know about “circuit breaker” lockdowns — the Welsh attempt seems to have failed terribly — the central assertion that the PM followed their advice is false.
We know that Gupta, Heneghan and Tegnell were invited to participate alongside Professor Edmunds, via zoom, in a Sunday evening “debate” format that was intended to test the logic of the Government’s strategy. The PM was on the call. Each expert spoke for around 15 minutes, and there were few questions. As prominent sceptics of the wisdom of lockdowns, the first three seem to have been there to show that all sides had been considered (and no doubt to demonstrate to anxious backbenchers that the Government was not being held captive by SAGE).
I am told that Gupta argued that, instead of continuing with community-wide restrictions such as the “traffic light” scheme or further lockdowns, resources should be diverted to better protecting the vulnerable during the inevitable seasonal increase in infection levels over the coming winter. It was, and remains, her belief that fewer people would have died if the Prime Minister had followed this advice, and done a better job of protecting highly vulnerable groups instead of the current one-size-fits-all approach.
Instead, he did precisely the opposite: continuing with community-wide restrictions before moving England back into a full nationwide lockdown a month later. The PM and his top ministers like Matt Hancock actively portray the so-called “Great Barrington” proposal (of which Gupta was a signatory) as an irresponsible “let it rip” approach that they cannot countenance. It’s not exactly following the Gupta method.
It is reasonable for people who have principled or practical objections to lockdowns to criticise the Government for remaining so closely aligned with the most interventionist voices on SAGE, and equally for people who support that approach to applaud it. But, despite its political attraction, the reverse attack (that they have not listened enough to these voices) just doesn’t wash. We’re almost a year into this pandemic and yet naked party politics and basic “gotcha” journalism tropes are still driving the discussion. Sigh.
The government have let us down badly, not listening to a broader science and SAGE have been nothing short of criminal.
PCR testing – is route of there still been a pandemic with high false positive numbers, SAGE know this. Funny how the NHS staff now use a lateral test, too many staff off with false positives.
COVID- death figures, nobody dies other diseases now.
Distorted data being provided.
SAGE – starting at the point that no one has immunity across the public. Vallance knows this isn’t true – let’s Dr Mike Yeadon prove this he calls Vallance a down right liar!
The pandemic won’t be over until SAGE say it over.
This goes further than not listening the situation we are in is a criminal act of TREASON!
The Sunday Times refers to its latest ‘investigation’ where “Insight asks whether the PM’s decision to prioritise the economy over ‘following the science’ led him to repeat the errors of the spring”.
It is hardly worth reading any further because the article fails to produce a shred of evidence that the PM prioritised the economy. Indeed, I am not sure how anyone could argue that blowing 3 x the annual budget of the NHS in just a few months is prioritising the economy, particularly when the end result is significantly longer waiting lists for health care and higher insolvencies and unemployment. We are now heavily in debt with nothing to show for it – hardly prioritising the economy.
If the PM failed to follow ‘the science’, it would be the significant scientific evidence that shows lockdowns don’t work. The medium and long term costs of lockdown far exceed any short term gains. Interesting that when the PM announced the second lockdown, the number of daily cases were around 22,000 which is almost exactly what they are today after a month of lockdown.
This nonsense has got to stop, but when you’ve got the mainstream media such as the ST & BBC publishing alarmist garbage it is hard to see where or when it will all end.
at least Unherd is able to employ some people capable of doing actual trustworthy, balanced journalism
Completely agree. I read the Times article thinking the same: they are just trying to maintain the argument that we didn’t do enough, sort of like trying to shift the overton window. This has the effect of making it harder to question the effects or necessity of the lockdowns, and gives the government an excuse not explain their reasoning. If everyone is shouting for more, then why explain yourself? Some of us want the government to make a logical, scientific case for it, not be given a free pass by vocal lockdown supporters.
What also scares me, apart from an article like that in The Times, is almost all the comments below it! They’re playing yo the audience for sure.
One lady said ‘but flu doesn’t have the potential to overwhelm the nhs’ I thought, every other winter that’s all over news!
Spiked has a great article taking apart the “insight” in more detail too btw.
Over and above the fact that any arm of the British state will always achieve precisely the opposite of that which it intends to achieve, it seems that these circuit breakers and lockdowns fail for the following reasons:
– You confine people to their homes, which are often cramped and have poor air circulation etc, making it easier for the virus to spread. In addition, some people break the law to gather in their homes to drink and watch football etc with other people.
– Everyone is compelled visit the same few shops, instead of at least some people going to some smaller, different shops.
– When confined to their homes, people get less vitamin D (not that there is much of this to be gained from the sun at this time of year)
– Face masks are a giant racket that only makes things worse.
I spend two hours minimum, every day, out dog walking. I never wear a hat and my vitamin D lever is ” off the Richter scale, according to my GP!
Apparently the ‘sun’ gets through even the thickest clouds! Astonishing n’est pas?
Yes, I’m out walking for quite long periods most days, without a hat. And I pop out for a few minutes whenever there is a bit of sun. I didn’t know that the sun gets through the thickest clouds, although I always assumed that to be outside was better than nothing. Whatever, I haven’t even had a cold for some years.
That is astonishing, since in winter you could probably walk about naked and not get enough vitamin D. In most of the British Isles the sun is too low to make much difference during winter time. Fortunately, you can easily up vitamin D levels with cheap supplements 10ug or 20ug will do fine. I take these every day from October to April. I have never had a cold since I started doing that.
Yes, I think there maybe a mistake, but isn’t that heresy these days?
The Sunday Times appears to have lost all sense of balance, and the ability to analyse and report with objectivity. One D. Lawson was tub-thumping and disparaging Gupta et al a couple of issues back ,and last weekend was more of the same, but vaccine-themed, and this article follows a similar pattern.
It’s hard to determine whether the ST is Johnson-bashing, absolutely convinced of the truth of this, or indeed the whole thing is some form of “straw man” effort, designed to bolster the Government’s preferred narrative (aka lies and propaganda). I incline to the latter view.
It is no secret that the government is putting massive amounts of money into broadcast and print advertising, national and local for itself and “our NHS”; a variation on the Bevan “stuff their mouths with gold” approach. Having established such a dependency, I can’t see that many such media would risk the loss of the bribes by opposing that which they are simultaneously advertising.
The BBC is at present engaged in a government boot-licking exercise, most likely connected with appeasement to avoid any of the threatened penalties touted earlier in the year, pre-Covid.
Yes, someone pointed out a few months ago that the press and media are getting huge amounts of govt money for Covid information/propaganda. Another reason not give the MSM any of your money.
I’m afraid that the ST is drowning itself in the “Zeitgeist”. Apart from the nonsense promulgated in the main paper, the magazines are a tour-de-force in “wokery”, the politics of race (a BLM fan club) and the rest; all with a dash of conspicuous consumption and slack-jawed admiration of the wealthy and the latest crop of “celebs”. The only bit which is vaguely informative is the Business section, but for those of us not enjoying government PPE, track and trace, testing and other contract largesse, it makes for pretty grim reading.
The crusading Harold Evans days of exposing the Thalidomide Scandal, Paris Air Disaster and other such things are long gone.
The ST has been garbage for years, Rod Liddle notwithstanding. It even looks horrible.
A friend was boasting a few months ago that he always read the ST and was therefore sophisticated and well informed. I told him in no uncertain terms that the ST is now just garbage, along with all the vast majority of the rest of the MSM.
It reads like a complete attack on Guptra and Heneghan. Fuelled more so by the likes of that Trisha Greenalgh.
Good god. I remember her. She used to write for the ICAEW’s Accountancy Magazine.
(This is also ridiculously woke)
Great article Freddie!
Even Karl Friston from Sage said that lockdowns would only prolong the agony.
I nowadays get the feeling that the politicians are going to do whatever they want regardless of what new data comes along. They just don’t want to be blamed of inaction. No matter if those actions are detrimental to everyone.
In order for the GBD strategy to have any real hope of success: two measures have to be put in place:
1) devise and implement methods to shield the vulnerable;
2) the non-vulnerable must resume normal-ish life.
The former, to reduce the toll from the virus. The latter, to minimize the time, for which the vulnerable must shield. Both measures need public buy-in, and hence a public declaration of intent.
It seems to me, there would be considerable cognitive dissonance at such a turn of policy. given the rhetoric used and the atmosphere established so far. Not to mention the pushback from the “doomers”. So Boris could not go through with it even if he wanted to.
In the absence of explicit adoption, only half-measures could be applied, but these couldn’t have been robust enough to have a similar enough outcome.
‘Second, when people are concentrated in homes, many of which are small with little or no outside space, this could actually increase the risk of transmission.’
That was written by a doctor in The Spectator today with regard to Wales and a Covid caseload that is ‘spiralling out of control’. I have been saying since March that staying at home is the worst thing you can do. After all, 66% of those in New York who contracted Covid or died from Covid (I don’t remember which it was) had followed the orders to ‘stay home’. If I, with no medical training or knowledge of epidemiology etc was able to see this nine months ago, why weren’t all the ‘experts’ and politicians?
Of course, the problem in Wales is compounded by the fact that when confined to their homes they are compelled to have sex with each other instead of with their woolly friends.
I like this article- I like it a lot!
Can someone explain to me the difference between “The post” and “Unherd”?
“Unherd” has a teal background and the Post” has a light green background. 😉
Hahahahaha. Very true indeed!
I *think* the idea is the articles in The Post are more like a blog post (shorter, more immediate) whereas the rest of UnHerd is more like a paper with published articles etc. I appreciate that’s a fine distinction but it feels like that’s what they’re going for. Maybe.
I too was left confused by the ST article. But, just in support of the ST and indeed other analysts, it must be difficult to coherently report on what is happening inside an incoherent government…
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