Take Junction 3 off the road to Hell? That’s the choice ahead on lockdowns

Take Junction 3 off the road to Hell? That’s the choice ahead on lockdowns

by Jon Dobinson
article from Thursday 21, January, 2021

NOW THAT we have satnav, it’s rare to feel the frustration of travelling in a car where the driver resolutely heads in the wrong direction despite being told repeatedly that ‘it’s the other way!’

That is, unless you’re a critic of lockdowns. All the evidence shows they are pointless, counter-productive, and incredibly destructive, yet a panicked populace and blinkered Governments keep speeding down this desperate and dangerous road.  

We missed our first chance to exit when Covid arrived last Spring. We could have chosen to follow the policy of sensible containment originally advocated by Government advisors and this country’s world-class epidemiologists. Instead, we locked down. 

“It’ll only be a couple of weeks,” we were told. “That’ll be enough to bring down Covid and get the NHS ready to cope.” What fools we were to believe it! A year later, after months of harsh restrictions and incredibly compliant behaviour, everything is worse than ever. 

Yet we’re told the cure is yet more of the same – but even tougher, to ensure the scapegoats for previous failures comply. For all the talk of vaccines, it’s a cycle which will never end until we learn to live with this unpleasant virus.   

That first lockdown did incredible damage. It will be years before we understand the full impact. The Government’s own rigorous study into its effects found it will cause 200,000 unnecessary deaths in the UK. The economy suffered the biggest hit on record, plunging a cataclysmic 18.9% on top of a 3% fall early in the year. Cancer screening stopped, which means many thousands of people will suffer and die unnecessarily. The number of people waiting more than a year for operations rose from around 1,000 to almost 200,000, ensuring persistent crises in the NHS for many years to come. 

The impact on mental health of lockdown and the accompanying campaign of fear was horrendous – the London Ambulance Service was amongst those reporting a tragic jump in suicides, while alcohol dependency rose to affect around 600,000 people. Threatening notices sprang up everywhere to enforce slavish adherence to often senseless rules. The liberties and prosperity that generations of our forebears fought and died to win for us were discarded in panic like sandbags from a plummeting balloon. 

Amidst the Covid panic, all this – which should normally have people terrified – seemed to most a price worth paying.  Those who queried such extreme and unprecedented measures were howled down as heartless fools who cared nothing for the vulnerable old people at most risk from Covid.  Yet these same ‘caring’ critics displayed a callous disregard for cancer patients, for those driven to suicide, for the mentally ill, for the hundreds of millions whom the World Food Programme said would starve as a result of the economic restrictions: more than were killed by Mao, Stalin and Hitler combined. It didn’t matter who died or why – unless it was from Covid. 

The Office for National Statistics reported that even at the height of the Spring Covid hysteria, two people died of the fear and restrictions for every three who died of Covid itself. 6,000 of them were people who were simply too frightened to go to hospital even though they needed urgent emergency treatment. They were literally scared to death by the media. 

When Covid mortality subsided with the advent of Spring, excess deaths continued to mount. Around 1,000 people more than expected died in their homes every week from non-Covid causes, but that never made the headlines. These people simply didn’t count: more sacrifices to the great new cult of Covid. Its high priests recognise only one way of death: that which will drive followers to throw away everything they once held dear and tremble in fear at the lockdown altar.

Humanity has always responded to plague by turning to religion. For our secular age, a new one has had to be invented, though this unpleasant virus is hardly the equal of the killer diseases of the past. 

Its message is a familiar one: salvation can only be won through the bitterest hardship. Without harsh restrictions, there can be no deliverance from the wrath of the Covid gods. You must renounce your friends, your family, your pleasures, and your freedom for a chance, someday, to be redeemed from the virus. There is no god but Covid: all other places of worship must be shut. Possessions don’t matter: let the economy burn. 

Only obeying the Covid commandments will save you, no matter how nonsensical they may be. And if the promised salvation does not come, then it’s not because the religion is bogus but because unbelievers betrayed the faith or the flagellation was not sufficiently punishing. 

Inconvenient facts are ignored. Leicestershire was effectively in lockdown throughout the summer and autumn when the rest of the country enjoyed some relaxation of the rules. If restrictions worked, it should have seen an improvement relative to the rest of the country. Wales was plunged into the toughest restrictions and lockdowns of anywhere in the UK during the autumn. It ended up with worse problems. 

Like all fundamentalists, the worshippers of Lockdown persecute unbelievers mercilessly and rely on faith rather than facts. The pain of the Spring lockdown might have been worth it if it had genuinely saved lives, though the average Covid victim has already lived longer than average and is dying of other causes. But as the Government’s own experts said in February 2020, lockdowns at best postpone deaths, they don’t stop them. 

We now know that they don’t even do that very well – around 30 international studies have all found that their impact on the spread of the virus is minimal. The latest and arguably most authoritative of all was published this month by a world-class team led by Professor John Ioannidis of Stanford University, one of the world’s most respected epidemiologists. Its conclusions are unambiguous: harsh measures like lockdowns do not reduce the spread of infections at all, anywhere. 

As Dr Dayal Mukherjee, of Recovery’s Medicine & Science group, observes, “It is now very clear from the evidence published out of Stanford that lockdowns have not had a significant impact of case growth of the Covid-19 epidemics in countries including the UK, USA, France, Italy, and Iran.”

Some virologists even believe that they give an advantage to more dangerous mutations, since spread happens more easily in places like hospitals, where the victims with the most lethal and infectious strains are inevitably found. 

Our own experience should have taught us the lesson. Our lockdown was supposed to last three  weeks. It went on for months and the restrictions never fully disappeared. None of the promised benefits were realised. Covid is a seasonal virus and waned as predicted over the summer. That aside, the lockdown only made everything worse. 

Who would argue for another in the face of facts like these? It turns out that the Government’s own advisers would, led by figures like Susan Michie, a lifelong campaigner for hardline Soviet-style communism whose specialism is not medicine, but behavioural science (making people conform), and Neil Ferguson, who continues as a key advisor despite supposedly resigning in disgrace and whose record of prediction is beyond woeful (look it up and you’ll wonder how on earth he was trusted to make the right number of cups of tea for SAGE meetings, let alone with advising on the single most destructive course of action ever taken by a UK Government). 

When the next opportunity to press the accelerator on the high road to lockdown hell came along, they put the foot to the floor. Headlines in November screamed about a ‘mutant virus’ which scared people silly – a new yet more infectious strain. Cynics pointed to the fact it had been around for months, one of 10,000 known variants, but no-one on SAGE thought to mention it until the Covid Recovery Group started winning the debate at Westminster. 

This time, the promise was different – it’ll only be a short time until we have enough vulnerable people vaccinated and then things can open up. 

That will be this Spring. It will be our third chance to exit the road to Hell. If we listen, we can already hear the flames licking at the remnants of our battered economy. We can feel the terror of those suffering around us. We feel the loneliness, hopelessness, misery and despair welling up on all sides around us. Surely, this time, we will turn away? 

Tragically, I don’t believe we will.  More powerful than all these is the over-mastering fear that Government and media continue to stoke. It has been built to such levels that no logic can cut through, no consequence of lockdowns and restrictions can be serious enough to prevent it. I guarantee that any easing over the summer will only be used as a reason to lockdown harder again this autumn. 

In fact, the lockdown religion has been converting new followers. The media has spent the last month putting fire to the feet of the few brave heretics still prepared to speak. As the case for lockdown grows ever weaker, its adherents become more frenzied and extreme. Already, the promise of a lifting of restrictions once the vulnerable people who may suffer is being qualified and is receding.   

Nightly on the news, SAGE members solemnly rehash the familiar warnings. We hear that there are new strains which require a tweaked vaccine. They won’t tell us exactly when it will end – they certain won’t give a timetable – but they still dangle the old, tired promise that relief is around the corner. Like marsh-lights leading a traveller into a swamp, the promise of easing if we comply a little longer takes us ever deeper into the mire of restrictions.  

Above all, we’re told that the NHS can’t cope – indeed, the backlog of urgent and untreated conditions from what we did in 2020 now guarantees it. Matt Hancock tells us that restrictions won’t be eased until the NHS is no longer under pressure. We’ve not managed that for many years before Covid, so that is an open-ended clause which could in practice lock us down forever. 

We’ve learned how the process works now. Egged on by SAGE, the Government thrashes around like a man with a flame-thrower trying to rid his home of a poisonous spider. Even as we survey the smoking ruins, with the spider still there laughing on the doorstep, they ready another blast. 

More restrictions and lockdowns will further devastate our torched economy. As the private sector collapses, it will become increasingly hard to educate our children, support people in old age, fund social services, or house our families. 

As we have already seen, the advocates of lockdowns will respond not by changing tack, but by doubling down. (If you find that hard to believe, consider for a moment what has already happened over the past year to our children’s education, to our care for old people, or to those at risk of domestic abuse – offences rose by almost 1500% between 23 March and 23 April 2020. 70,000 more people became homeless. And yet the clamour for still harsher restrictions has grown.)

It will end only when we hound the lockdown priests from the high places of Government and learn to live with a virus that is unpleasant, occasional dangerous, but not so very different from countless others we’ve come to terms with over the centuries.   

As long as the media continues to drive people senseless with terror, few will question the orthodoxy. 

We’re now ruled by a viral panic that can brook no logic or reason. While it is sustained, restrictions will endure. 

The god of overmastering fear has had many names over the millennia. The very name ‘panic’ is derived from Pan - and to ‘see the Great God Pan’ meant literally to be frightened to death. 

We see ourselves as modern, enlightened people, free of ancient spooks and bogeymen, and believe we are more rational today. What we have discovered over the past year is that in the face of a primal fear (disease), we are just as vulnerable to unreasoning behaviour as any stone-age troglodyte. Organised religion was a shield against the old gods. As it has withered, so they have marched back. 

In that sense, lockdown worship is not a new religion, but a new form of a very old one. Never in history have more people seen the Great God Pan than in 2020. His lieutenants in the media make every home his temple. 

It’s no surprise to find him cracking the whip on this crazy journey. With his horns and cloven feet, Pan’s image became that of Satan. 

Whatever your religious beliefs - or more likely, lack of them - we can all agree that he was demonised for good reason. Blind unreasoning terror is one of the most dangerous emotions it’s possible to unleash. For a Government to stoke it deliberately, as ours has done in the name of ensuring compliance, is irresponsible beyond belief. 

Not that I’m immune. Fear grips me too, but mine is of different kind. 

My fear is that this won’t end this year or next. Not until the damage is off the scale. We’ll wake to a different and frightening world. China will be the dominant power, its influence spread far and wide, its sway unchallenged. The devastated remnants of the western democracies will be impoverished economically and morally, having thrown away the values and prosperity which once gave them power and respect. Covid will still exist, but too late, we’ll realise that it was the least of our problems.

Okay, a few people will do very well out of it – big tech and big pharma will make fortunes for a privileged elite. The Government advisors most responsible will likely retire to sunny havens on big pensions after awarding themselves knighthoods and honours. 

The rest of us may face a level of poverty we had thought long banished – back will come the starving, the uneducated masses, the shoeless children clad in rags. That’s what happens when you single-mindedly set out to destroy a functioning economy. Only a year ago we had the highest level of employment since records began – I doubt I’ll see us coming close to achieving that again.

It seems ludicrous to say the prosperous UK could become a starving, collapsing, failed state.  

I’d also have found it ludicrous a year ago if you’d told me that we’d ban children from the bedsides of their dying parents, or tell people living alone that they can’t have sex, or restrict travelling more than a few miles, or be told not to leave our homes, or turn critically ill cancer patients away from hospitals, or legislate away the key freedoms set out in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or close down entire sectors of the economy, or end freedom of speech with new rules on broadcasters. 

If we’ve learned one thing over the past year, it’s that we were too complacent about the protection our society afforded us from the extremes of misgovernment seen elsewhere in the world.  

The evidence so far suggests that the UK is set to be one of the countries that is hardest hit. Our economy relies more than most on international travel, on a thriving City of London, on global trade, on small businesses and now, on making Brexit successful. Our debts are ballooning and our businesses are withering. Of course the UK can be a poor country too if we’re stupid enough to destroy the sources of our prosperity.   

In fact, the risk experts at Bristol University predict that lockdown will cost the equivalent of 560,000 lives in the UK because of the health impact of the ‘deep and prolonged recession it will cause’. 

That total is greater than the number of British lives lost during the Second World War.  

So what’s the alternative?  

First, we have to accept that there is now no way to prevent people dying and the NHS being under pressure. If Covid vanished entirely today, we would still see the NHS struggle for years dealing with the backlog of untreated serious and life-threatening conditions.  Managers in the NHS know this and confide privately about it, but dare not go public.

There is only one way to get through this. In fact, there only ever was one way to get through this. It starts by facing an unpleasant fact: sometimes we encounter problems that we simply can’t fix. 

A dangerous new virus is one of them. The idea that our leaders could legislate it out of existence as they have tried to do was always a delusion. 

Instead then, we must learn to live with Covid.  

The arrival of the vaccines makes that much easier. Covid is a much diminished threat if we have given their protection to those in the frontline and who are vulnerable – but we cannot expect vaccination to be the end of Covid, any more than we expect vaccination to see off the flu. 

We can certainly help those who need to keep themselves separate from society with support to do so. 

We can also plan better. Covid is a seasonal virus, which means (unlike last year) that we can use the time we have in the summer to ramp up treatment for other conditions and to build a medical service which can cope with the guaranteed increase in winter demand. 

We should certainly recalibrate the insanely over-sensitive testing regime which constantly disrupts the NHS by sending healthy staff home to isolate. 

Where we identify promising treatments, we should test and introduce them quickly. Doctors say some cheap drugs show good effects, like Ivermectin. A nitric oxide nasal spray from Israel offers another option – early reports indicate that it’s 99.9% effective in killing the virus, something that vaccines don’t do. The UK has led on vaccines, but lagged on options like these. 

The pharmaceutical lobby may not like it, but some easy, everyday options appear to be helpful in ameliorating Covid-19, like taking vitamin D and zinc. It can do no harm to investigate and encourage those too. 

Maybe all of these will turn out to be effective in controlling and treating the virus, maybe none will, but we can certainly expect both hospitalisations and mortality to improve as better treatments come along. 

To safeguard our long-term health, we must do everything we can to ensure a strong, functioning economy, so that we can afford to pay for the health and welfare this takes – without it, borrowing cannot sustain us for long.     

That means we must open up businesses and society while continuing any sensible precautions we can take without destroying our future as a country. 

Above all, we must end the campaign of fear. We must scrap of the Government’s SPI-B team that has done so much to foster unreasoning panic throughout our society and pledge that never again will a British Government deliberately set out to do such enormous damage to the nation’s mental health. 

With it should go the broadcasting restrictions. Few people are aware that the Government has instructed broadcasters via OfCom not to report anything that might undermine its restrictions or highlight the damage that they do. The partisan campaign of fear we have seen is all the more effective because people think the reports they see are no different from the usual critical and questioning news coverage. 

The last time such restrictions were put in place was during the Gulf War, when the BBC prefaced every report with a warning that it was made under Government restrictions to let people know that its coverage was of a different kind. Why has it not done the same now?  

Similarly, we must free-up social media deals that prevent a proper, open debate about the best way to tackle this crisis. And while we’re at it, let’s get balanced, rational advisors back into Government to replace some of the fanatics and extremists.

It’s only by allowing ideas to be challenged and discussed that we find the best solutions. 

Sadly, none of this will undo the damage of 2020. The thousands of new problem drinkers will find it very hard to stop – many of them will die earlier than they should. A generation of children will carry the scars we have inflicted on them for a lifetime. We can’t turn back the clock for cancer patients who missed vital treatments or bring back the desperate, lonely young people who couldn’t cope and committed suicide – far too many families are grieving because of that. The economic hit will be felt by all of us for years. In a bad situation, the best we can do is to stop making it worse – and learn from our mistakes.

A year ago, I would have backed the government, media and people of the UK to display some hard-headed common-sense in a crisis like this. I’m sorry to say that I would have been wrong. 

Recovery is campaigning hard for a less damaging response to Covid-19, but I now see little prospect of sense returning this year or next. I’d love to be proved wrong again. 

So please, go ahead. Deny me the bitter pleasure of the justified prophet of doom, the last comfort of Cassandra: the chance to stand amidst ruins and say, ‘I told you so’. 

Junction Three off the road to Hell is just ahead. We should turn the wheel and take it.

CEO of the award winning advertising agency, Other, Jon Dobinson is a co-founder and director of Recovery – www.timeforrecovery.org 

Photo by sommaiphoto from Adobe Stock.

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