24 January 2022

No, lockdown sceptics have not been vindicated


There is a new form of bafflingly illogical social media crowing that needs to be put to bed.

Those who erroneously asserted that ‘lockdowns don’t work’ are bizarrely claiming victory now that restrictions are rightly coming to an end. ‘We told you all along’, they say. Contending that those of us who accepted the need for restrictions to avoid a health system collapse have now performed some kind of reverse ferret.

It makes me wonder whether or not these Covid-sceptics have ever heard of vaccines.

There is a blindingly obvious distinction between the need for non-pharmaceutical interventions amongst a non-immune population, verses one with incredibly high levels of immunity.

Stop me if I am getting too technical, but if lots of people have decent immunity to a disease, there is far less justification for trying to stop that disease spreading.

And that is what our stupendously successful vaccine rollout has delivered us in the UK. The ability to replace non-pharmaceutical interventions (social restrictions) with pharmaceutical ones (vaccines and therapeutics).

It is in large part why 50,000 daily cases led to a peak of well over 1,000 daily deaths last winter, whereas 50,000 daily cases led to around 150 daily deaths upon England’s ‘freedom day’ unlocking. And it’s in large part why our Omicron peak of 200,000 daily cases led to a peak of 250 daily deaths this winter.

Had we enjoyed the same level of openness last winter as we did this winter, the death toll would undoubtedly have been higher. Not solely from the virus, but also from hospitals being so overwhelmed by Covid demand that there was no capacity to treat other illnesses.

No beds for car crash victims, no oxygen for those with heart failure, and certainly no capacity for cancer screenings.

Faced with bad choices, individuals no longer mixing face to face was the only way to mitigate the spread of Covid. Thankfully we have now reached a stage where such painful and inhuman requirements are no longer necessary.

It genuinely amazes me that otherwise intelligent people can claim that reducing social contact does not stop viral spread – as if you can pass the virus on via Zoom. Literally separating people from one another self evidently stops the virus passing between those people too.

To deny lockdowns worked to reduce spread is to deny logic.

To be clear, there are some sensible arguments against lockdowns – it is obviously reasonable to oppose the restriction of liberty on a philosophical level, or to argue against the harm principle or assert that does it not apply. If you wish to say that more disease is a price worth paying for greater freedom, be my guest. I will be more willing to listen.

And I will be among the first to agree that some of the rules were, frankly, nuts. The curfew as clearly counterproductive, ‘substantial meal’ alcohol requirements were nonsensical, restrictions on individuals sitting alone outside were draconian, and taping off of park benches was laughable.

It is totally consistent to recognise that lockdowns worked to reduce the spread of the virus, while saying specific associated policies were wrong. Not all pandemic policy is created equal.

And it is right too, to criticise the ‘Zero Covid’ brigade. Those who in countries that are highly vaccinated are now culling pet hamsters and cancelling outdoor weddings. There is a funny sort of horseshoe effect in neither the hardcore Lockdown sceptics or Zero Covid zealots accepting that vaccines work to deliver us from restriction.

So yes, by all means make arguments for liberty, for consistency, or for actual epidemiology. But don’t fall down the rabbit hole of claiming that the rightful abolition of restrictions now is in any way comparable to being anti-lockdown at the peak of this pandemic

Peddling dodgy statistics, denying any kind of trade off, taking an overwhelmingly niche and very online stance against the fundamentals of germ theory – that is a realm of crankery that must not be indulged.

So thank God we no longer need restrictions; that our vaccine rollout was so stupendously successful and that we can be relatively confident now is the time to put the pandemic era behind us.

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Tom Harwood is Political Correspondent at GB News, where he presents The Briefing.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.