Anti-lockdowners are out, filling a Covid probe gap with bogus ideology Sonia Sodha

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A The first two years of the pandemic saw a war of words. On the one hand commentators and scientists were opposing social distancing of any kind as a way to keep the infection rate down. On the other hand, those who argued that the government should adopt a “zero covid” policy to eliminate the disease at all costs. Most of the scientists and the British public were caught in the middle of this tug of war.

Sometime last summer, those debates melted into the background with the promise “to continue…” when the statutory inquiry into Covid finally begins to publish its findings. But the second season of Lockdown Wars has been thrust upon us sooner than expected Wire Received over 100,000 pandemic WhatsApp messages. They were passed on by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who had been given access to them by Matt Hancock when she was co-authoring the pandemic diaries of the former health secretary. He has argued that the public interest justified breaking his nondisclosure agreement in releasing the messages.

Oakeshott described the pandemic-related social restrictions as a “reckless overreaction” and a “monumental disaster” and the universal vaccine rollout as “one of the most extraordinary cases of mission creep in political history” and clarified that he chose Wire Because of its anti-lockdown editorial stance. So it is perhaps little surprise that the paper is juxtaposing news reports of these messages with columns by leading lockdown skeptics – Nigel Farage and Rachel Johnson – claiming they prove they were always right.

However, there is a risk of giving the impression that Wire To shore up your preferred narrative that social restriction was a case of ideology trumping evidence, it is notable that there is – as yet – nothing that actually supports that point of view. But there are plenty of messages we already know, for example that some cabinet ministers – notably Rishi Sunak – strongly opposed the restrictions. So far, the Lockdown Files echo a previous investigation by the same paper, but with one key difference – it is as if Wire published his explosive 2009 MP spending revelations, but packed them with a set of opinion columns arguing against the evidence – that it was all just a one-party problem.

But the story demonstrates one thing beyond question – that it was wrong for the government to put its assessment of its Covid record into the tall grass by setting up a statutory inquiry that would take years to report. There are two questions that we are entitled to answer. First: Were the decisions taken in the war against Kovid correct? And second: how were those decisions made and who was responsible for any mistakes? Both are important for learning lessons from the pandemic, but the first can be answered relatively quickly. In fact, the calls were – supported by Observer – To quickly review what went right and wrong in the first few months of the pandemic. Other countries have already published the results of such reviews.

In addition to reinforcing what we already know about the main characters – like Hancock is a walking self-destruct button – Wire The leaks are really about the other question. The truth is that we do not need a huge body of leaks to understand what the government did right and wrong; There’s already enough out there to do a quick query. The balance of evidence suggests that government-imposed restrictions that reduced people’s social interactions reduced infection rates and saved lives. It also suggests that countries that acted more quickly to impose social restrictions did a better job of protecting the economy. Allowing the virus to spread unchecked will come at a great economic cost.

These broad headlines hide important contextual differences. Countries like Peru struggled to enforce their strict lockdowns and had higher death rates than neighbors with less strict measures. The case of Sweden – a darling of anti-lockdown folks – is nuanced. Sweden only really deviated from similar countries in the harshness of its social restrictions in the first Covid wave and even then it took some measures. Its Covid death rate was significantly worse than its Nordic neighbors and while the Swedish Covid Commission concluded that its government was right to focus on requests rather than mandates to avoid social contact – and the level of compliance with these requests were generally very good – it said swift and strong action should have been taken to slow the spread of Covid in the first wave like closing restaurants.

The evidence about the impact on lives and the economy is not sufficient on its own, however: different social restrictions imposed different types of costs. The grief of a lifetime of seeing your beloved parents die alone is different than the impact of not seeing friends for a few weeks. There is a different order to prevent children from enjoying live music without going to school for months.

Why did the government open pubs before schools? Why didn’t it do so much shame to reduce the impact of school closures in the first wave? Why didn’t it learn the basic lesson of the first wave – that acting too late in the case of an exponential virus means not only more deaths but more economic damage – and apply it to the second wave as well, while it continues to roll out Was a vaccine being developed that would eventually reduce the need for restrictions? What actions could have been taken to blunt the most brutal impact of first-wave sanctions? Was it necessary to give the police such draconian powers to enforce the rules when, apart from Downing Street, public compliance was generally very good?

In an attempt to leak WhatsApp into its own ideological narrative WireThe ‘anti-lockdown’ obscure these important questions. We need a rational assessment of what government is right and wrong, based not only on scientific evidence, but how it reacts with the values ​​of citizens, most of whom still think that government has either got balance right They will have their own views on social restrictions overall, or not gone too far, and the specific trade-offs involved. The longer we go without it, the more we will see thinkers trying to fill the gap.

Sonia Sodha is The Observer columnist

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