In my speech in Parliament in on 30th December in opposition to the previous tightening of restrictions (now overtaken by the all-England lock-down) I identified a need for competitive sources of expertise on which the Government could rely, even if only to frame the right questions to put to its current scientific advisors on SAGE -which suffers from all the disadvantages of decision-making by committee.
That speech has provoked a welcome email response from scientists from all disciplines, and in particular from some of our most eminent statisticians and mathematicians. They have sent me their analyses challenging the orthodoxy with which we are daily presented.
It is of some reassurance to know that you are not alone, and that that your stance is supported by credible experts. This is especially the case as the public debate has become more strident and toxic: The derision with which dissident professors have been treated in the media is itself a form of censorship.
Two things are clear. First, the last 12 months have been by no means exceptional in terms of total UK deaths. This is not, in any way, to fail to recognise the suffering of people mourning those who have died, but it does raise questions about the accuracy of recording any death within 28 days of a positive Covid test as being a Covid death.
If one accepts the accuracy and validity of the figures for Covid deaths, then it follows that 10 months of lockdowns have failed to reduce them. The Lancet published an evaluation of lockdown policy across governments and of varying severities, here is the conclusion:
‘Increased mortality per million was significantly associated with higher obesity prevalence and per capita gross domestic product…. Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people’
In plain language, lockdowns didn’t impact on Covid deaths, neither did mass testing. Yet these are the two of the baskets into which we have placed most of our eggs.
Setting aside the question of deaths, the main effort has always been to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed by the number of hospital admissions. As these have risen sharply over the last couple of weeks it is further testimony to the failure of lockdowns as a policy.
From the outset a number of us have argued that a lockdown merely postpones the progress of the disease: the moment social isolation measures are eased, then the disease accelerates until a further lockdown is ordered. Yet this failing policy comes at an enormous social and economic cost which will scar our collective life for a decade.
A sensible alternative would have been to identify the vulnerable groups most likely, if infected, to be hospitalised and incentivise their isolation (bluntly: assist them and pay them to isolate). This would have been neither easy nor inexpensive, but it might well have delivered a manageable level of hospital admissions with very much less damaging social and economic consequences.
We expect now to be rescued by vaccines, vindicating the Government’s strategy of suppressing the virus until vaccines became available.
I would hope that the failure of lockdowns however, would be a lesson that we have learnt for the future, but the way that the critics of lockdowns have been silenced, derided and presented as mavericks, is hardly encouraging.