- Debate on alternative strategies was censored
- Scientists ‘heretical’ for challenging assumption that lockdown was just a game
- What or who prevented the alternatives from being discussed more openly?
Baroness Hallett’s Covid investigation is turning into a comedy, if not a farce.
The inquiry has so far been dominated by Punch and Judy-style Downing Street politicking rather than a forensic investigation into how and why the decision to implement a strict lockdown was made.
These are the questions we want answers to.
However, the investigation has not addressed whether the lockdown was necessary, let alone whether we made it too strong. Furthermore, why was the UK’s original pandemic plan, which did not include a lockdown, not followed?
Professor Sunetra Gupta, an Oxford epidemiologist who questioned the reasoning behind installing an iron curtain around every home in the country since the start of the pandemic, has some of the answers. She’ll find them in her 12-page testimony as a witness to the investigation, published last week via Collateral Global.
Bet: Scientists branded heretics for challenging assumption Covid lockdown was the only game in town
Gupta’s statement is not sugarcoated: “The blind adoption of lockdown and lack of debate on how to respond to uncertainties is a tragedy for which the entire society is now paying a heavy price.” That’s why she advised a “focused protection” strategy on the most vulnerable.
And the price was high. As well as the direct economic impact on public finances, estimated by the House of Commons at up to £400bn, there are the less visible costs. Long NHS waiting lists, young people’s lost immunity to other illnesses and the devastating trauma for many. What would have happened if we hadn’t blocked so harshly and adopted a more voluntary, Swedish-style approach?
Doug McWilliams, of the Center for Economics and Business Research, estimates that around half of the £400bn of public spending could have been avoided. In a report published today, McWilliams estimates that a “softer” approach would still have cost the UK at least £118 billion in lost GDP – around 7.6 per cent of GDP in 2019 values, but about half of the real growth deficit of 14.7 percent.
If the UK had not adopted a formal lockdown, he argues, we would still have lost £118bn of GDP plus an extra £200bn of public spending – enough to fund the NHS for only a couple of years.
There would always have been some costs involved in fighting Covid because, as we saw at the beginning of 2020, many people were already entering voluntary quarantine, and this would have had a knock-on effect on trade in general and, of course, on the trips. . He arrived at the figures by revising the data to take into account likely underestimates of UK public sector GDP during Covid.
Adjusting for the UK’s more complex economy, Cebr uses Sweden as an indicator of how we would have performed without lowering the shutters. Swedish GDP fell by around 2.2 percent in 2020, grew by 5.6 percent in 2021 and 2.1 percent last year. Swedish companies saw their sales fall by 6.1 percent in 2020, and UK companies are likely to have seen similar modest declines.
The blockade was always a gamble. We will never know if it was the right choice. But what emerges from the research is that there was an alarming lack of rigorous debate about alternative strategies and the trade-offs between them.
Worse still was the dangerous way in which so much debate was censored. Scientists like Gupta were branded heretics for challenging the assumption that lockdown was the only option available. It was not.
What or who prevented the alternatives from being discussed more openly? Hallett must be careful not to make such a mistake again.