House of Commons Joint Committee whitewashes lockdowns
By Rusere Shoniwa
First published at https://plagueonbothhouses.com
On 12 October, a House of Commons Joint Committee published the first report, ‘Coronavirus: lessons learned to date’, on the government’s handling of the pandemic. The findings are disappointing but unsurprising. Flying in the face of mountains of data and scientific evidence that show lockdowns are ineffective in mitigating loss of life from Covid and are highly destructive across a wide range of societal and economic measures, the Committee concluded that the Government’s main error was one of timing – it just didn’t lockdown soon enough.
Before highlighting the data and scientific analysis that exposes the committee’s travesty, it is important to first examine the paradigm of lockdowns as a purported public health non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) for mitigating the spread of respiratory infections in a population. In other words, do lockdowns sit within an accepted evidence-based model? And, notwithstanding the now widely accepted destructiveness of lockdowns, is there any way that the decision to lock down could have been judged to be reasonable at the time it was made?
The lockdown paradigm
Lockdowns were never part of the national pandemic preparedness plans for infectious respiratory illnesses in the UK and across the West in general for the simple reason that there was no scientific evidence base for including them. Consider the consequences of your doctor prescribing to you a drug that has never been subjected to clinical trials and has never been considered for use by any respectable medical licensing authority, let alone approved by the national drug licensing authority or by the professional body that governs the doctor’s conduct.
Everyone understands that, even if you were lucky enough not to suffer harmful side effects from your doctor’s reckless experiment, he would be liable to sanctions from his professional body. If you were to suffer harm, criminal proceedings against the doctor would almost certainly be a forgone conclusion. This analogy aligns with the recklessness of the worldwide lockdown experiment because public health authorities are, in a very real sense, the nation’s collective doctors. As such, they have a professional duty of care to the public when recommending health measures. At the very least, that duty of care entails safeguards to ensure measures are evidence based and grounded in science.
Resorting to an intervention for which there was no medical or scientific evidence was an unmistakable act of gross negligence. The lawyers and qualified experts who wrote this letter to leading intelligence agencies understand this only too well and believe it was criminal. In assessing the World Health Organisation’s advice to the world to pursue lockdowns as a strategy for containing the spread of Covid, their opinion was:
“The conclusion [to lock down] by the world’s foremost public health body was, at best, criminally negligent.”
Another clue to the recklessness of the WHO’s, and by implication the Government’s, lockdown recommendation in February and March 2020 is its own pandemic guideline advice of October 2019. Listed as “not recommended in any circumstances” are: “contact tracing, quarantine of exposed individuals, entry and exit screening, border closure”. It defines quarantine as “separation or restriction of the movement of persons who may be infected, based either on exposure to other infected people or on a history of travel to affected areas”.
Having beaten the lockdown drum in February and March 2020 against its own better judgement, the WHO backtracked on its criminally negligent advice in October 2020 when Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, publicly urged world leaders to stop using lockdowns stating:
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”
Too little, too late. By winter of 2020 lockdowns had been normalised in the public consciousness and were repeated with a brazenness that belied their charlatanism. For the joint committee to conclude that the government’s error was merely a matter of timing is as absurd as concluding that a doctor who harmed a patient with an unapproved drug should be censured for recommending an insufficient dose.
The best laid plans
Acknowledging that in October 2019 the UK was one of the best prepared countries in the world, the parliamentary joint committee then seeks to excuse the Government’s abandonment of its original world-class plan to avoid lockdown. In doing so, the committee demonstrated that it does have some awareness of how problematic it is to have a pandemic preparedness plan that excludes lockdown only to then totally disregard that plan when the moment arrived to implement it. In justifying this recklessness, the report claims that the plan was not fit for purpose on the grounds that it was for an influenza-like pandemic and that ignoring it was therefore the right thing to do in the face of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny because Covid transmission, while arguably more infectious, is influenza-like and there was no evidence at that time of asymptomatic transmission. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence against asymptomatic transmission.
Burning the plan on the grounds that the threat faced was far greater than what had been planned for was also completely at odds with the government’s own downgrading of the assessment of Covid’s threat on the eve of lockdown. The main reason cited for removing Covid from the list of High Consequence Infectious Diseases (HCID) was “more information … about mortality rates (low overall)”. This assessment was correct and, with the infection fatality rate (0.15%) turning out to be similar to a bad flu, the report’s claim that the plan wasn’t fit for purpose because it prepared us for an influenza-like pandemic is a total contradiction of both its assessment before lockdown and the evidence that has emerged since.
It is therefore clear that, as an evidence-based NPI, lockdown does not even make it out of the starting block. The decision to lock down cannot be judged to have been reasonable even at the time it was made.
Sledgehammer or laser?
Lockdown also fails a basic test of targeted risk management. With the disease burden falling heavily on the frail elderly, the blunt instrument approach of locking down the young and healthy as well as the old and frail is entirely incongruent with the known risk profile of the disease, which is heavily skewed to one small segment of the population.
It’s clear that Covid provided the opportunity for a degree of risk segmentation that is every risk manager’s dream. But this golden opportunity for a laser-like focus on a small at-risk minority was squandered in favour of applying a sledgehammer to the entire country. A targeted risk-based approach is in fact nothing more than an embrace of the already established and evidence-based approach to dealing with a pandemic of this nature. As Martin Kulldorff, Harvard epidemiologist and signatory to the Great Barrington Declaration calling for a focused protection, explained about lockdowns:
“It’s a unique experiment, and it’s a terrible experiment. I’m amazed – as are many of my colleagues – at the total focus on this disease. In a short time, we are throwing all the principles of public health out the window. Most countries in Europe had a pandemic-preparedness plan which did not recommend lockdowns, but instead proposed a risk-based strategy to protect those at high risk, which is actually the same as the focused protection we put forward in the Great Barrington Declaration. What we are proposing is, therefore, nothing revolutionary.” [bold emphasis added]
Science committee ignores science
One of the committees involved in producing the ‘lessons learned’ report is the Science and Technology Committee. It is quite a feat for a science committee to have remained silent about the at least 47 scientific papers and studies confirming ineffectiveness and harms of lockdowns. This achievement alone is worthy of an investigatory committee report that could be titled: “How the Science Committee swept science under the rug”. By not locking down, numerous countries provided lockdown placebo controls which showed that these countries fared no differently, and in many cases far better, than the strictest applications of lockdown.
A recent paper in the International Journal of the Economics of Business, which focused on the cost/benefit analysis of lockdown (more of which later), accurately summed up the abject failure of lockdown as a lifesaving intervention:
“A casual examination of lockdown intensity and the number of cumulative deaths attributed to Covid-19 across jurisdictions shows no obvious relationship. Indeed, often the least intensive locations had equal or better performance. For example, using the OurWorldInData stringency index (SI) as a measure of lockdown, Pakistan (SI:50), Finland (SI: 52), and Bulgaria (SI: 50) had similar degrees of lockdown, but the cumulative deaths per million were 61, 141, and 1023. Peru (SI: 83) and the UK (SI:78) had some of the most stringent lockdowns, but also experienced some of the largest cumulative deaths per million: 1475 and 1868.
“Using information from OurWorldInData, the cumulative deaths per million on March 28, 2021 in North America were 1351 and for the European Union 1368. Sweden had light restrictions, but cumulative deaths were 1327; while the UK had heavy lockdowns and 1868 cumulative deaths per million. This stands in sharp contrast to the dire predictions that were made about Sweden in the first six months of the pandemic.
“Similar findings arise when comparing various US states. Florida and California were often compared because they are similar in terms of size and latitude, but had different lockdown policies. Florida locked down in the spring but then started lifting restrictions, on September 25th, 2020 all restrictions were lifted. California has had various mandates throughout 2020, but in early December issued a stay-at-home order that remained in place until January 25th, 2021. However, the cumulative deaths per 100,000 people are practically indistinguishable: 152 for Florida and 143 for California.”
If, on the one hand, a cold analysis of country data tells us that lockdowns don’t save lives and, on the other hand, we know that the myopic focus on one illness to the exclusion of all others led to delayed cancer diagnoses and premature deaths at home because of restricted access to health care, the conclusion that lockdowns caused a net loss of life is inescapable. And that’s before we consider all the other life-shortening economic and societal costs that lockdowns were responsible for.
This is a hard enough truth to swallow in and of itself but, in an Orwellian inversion of this truth, the joint committee invites you to believe that not only were lockdowns the correct thing to do but that it was a mistake for the government not to have applied them earlier. The report is not just wrong; it is a full-frontal assault on logic and sanity. Above all, it adds insult to those injured by lockdowns and it spits on the graves of those killed by them.
To achieve this inversion of logic, the committee leans on the broken crutch of Professor Neil Ferguson’s bankrupt modelled predictions of an apocalypse, quoting him in paragraph 77 of the report:
“It is now clear that this [delaying lockdown] was the wrong policy, and that it led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy… The former SAGE participant Professor Neil Ferguson told the Science and Technology Committee that if the national lockdown had been instituted even a week earlier ’we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half”.”
The joint committee’s steadfast dedication to burying the truth about Ferguson’s cracked crystal ball prevents it from publishing this concise summary of Imperial College’s powers of prediction:
The prediction for the UK, which did lock down, was out by a factor of 6 and, for Sweden, which didn’t lock down, it was out by a factor of nearly 12, double the UK error rate. The only reasonable conclusion that the joint committee ought to have come to is that Imperial College modellers should not be relied on to predict how many wheels are required on a bicycle.
Ignoring cost-benefit – the foundation of all government policy
Given that there was no upside to lockdown in lives saved, the obvious question is: what has been the total economic and social cost of the government’s disastrous lockdowns? Hundreds of billions of additional debt racked up in spending on rescue packages and testing, business closures, soaring poverty and unemployment, a build-up in the NHS waiting list to 5.6m, months of disruption to children’s education, declining mental health – all for what?
A discussion of cost-benefit in the joint committee’s report is conspicuous by its absence, presumably because committee members would have us believe that there is no limit to the government cost to be incurred in saving a life, notwithstanding that lives were not saved by lockdown. Our acceptance of the NHS as a rationed service is uncontroversial and instantly puts paid to such childish piffle. As Glenn Greenwald eloquently points out, cost-benefit analysis is foundational to all government policy. An absolutist approach to opting for a policy on the grounds that any lives saved make it imperative to embrace is a primitive mindset that ignores all the concomitant costs of that life-saving policy including, ironically, loss of life, as clearly illustrated by lockdowns.
The real lessons of the ‘lessons learned’ report
So, what are the real lessons to draw from this whitewash report, insultingly called ‘Coronavirus: lessons learned to date’? Adam Brooks on Twitter hits the nail on the head with the first lesson: based on the analysis of the scientific data which the committee scrupulously avoids, and contrary to its main conclusion, locking down sooner would only have led to “more excess deaths at home, more missed cancer diagnosis, more lost education in schools, more businesses and jobs lost, more mental health problems and more National Covid debt. Lockdowns are not some lifesaving tool. They create other deaths.”
Another vital lesson to extract from the joint committee’s report is about the perils of conflict of interest. The committees that produced this whitewashing of lockdown are composed of the MPs who voted unanimously and uncritically for lockdowns. Don’t expect them to admit they trashed the lives of millions of people across the country. Having played fast and loose with our lives, doubling down is now the name of the game.
You can read more of Rusere’s work at https://plagueonbothhouses.com