Columns

What I got wrong about lockdown

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

The news that residents of Liverpool are not allowed to visit any other cities in the UK is a hammer blow not just for the Scousers themselves, but even more so for the rest of us, who will be forced for an indefinite period to abide without their famous cheeky wit. I am not sure how I will cope. Covid has impinged horribly on the lives of all of us, but this may be the most grievous development of all. Luckily we can still treat ourselves to the pleasures of hearing the Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram, on the radio every five minutes or so demanding cash from the government.

Mr Rotheram has been praised by the Prime Minister for his ‘strong leadership’, despite the fact that the mayor himself eviscerates Boris Johnson and the government almost every time he opens his mouth. This shows you the depth of hell in which Boris currently resides — round about circle number eight, as Dante had it, beset on all sides by the Sowers of Discord.

From the mayors come the continual demands for more consultation and money; from Sir Keir Starmer in parliament an endless, boring, petty and deeply unconstructive bleat about incompetence. The scientists and medical clergy advising Johnson think he has not done nearly enough with the Three Tiers Before Bedtime stuff. Increasingly some of his backbenchers insist that this charade has gone on far too long and that we should return to normality and let the devil take the hindmost.

Given that the average age of death from Covid, 82.4 years, is several months older than the UK’s average life expectancy, this view has a certain allure. Covid — the illness you get only once you are dead. The problem for Boris is that he can no longer say that he is ‘following the science’ — which is just as well, because it was a stupid little shibboleth in March and looks even more stupid now. Following whose science?


But whatever he does henceforth, the buck stops with him. My suspicion is that the ‘science’ of that average age of death figure I quoted above probably has some sway with the government and so too does the lethality of Covid, at one point assumed to be anything between 2 and 3 per cent but now probably below 0.4 per cent — and only then if there was another underlying health issue in almost every case.

Of course 0.4 per cent is still an awfully large number of people — about 250,000 in the UK. But then the Prime Minister may also have been considering the three million cancer checks which did not take place so far this year because of Covid. I wrote about conflicting statistics on this virus in the Sunday Times and some woman posted below the line that she hoped ‘these sorts of journalists’ experience their elderly mothers dying of Covid before they write such rot. Thank you, a good point and made with great kindness. But my mother actually died of a tumour which went undetected for too long, and she was 54 years old.

One of the problems in dealing with this pandemic is that it has now become as stalwart a participant in the culture war as transgenderism and throwing statues of white folks into rivers. In other words, people sometimes know what side they’re on before they even know what the issue is. In the early days of the pandemic I was wholly in favour of lockdown: this virus seemed to be a singularity and rather more generally threatening than we now know it to be — and the notion of herd immunity I thought implausible (as I still believe, given Covid’s relish in infecting a second time). I understood the libertarian argument but did not quite go along with it. That was then. Now we know far more about Covid. We have a much better handle on its lethality, most importantly — and are also more equipped to treat its more unpleasant manifestations.

I argued long and hard back in March and April, insisting that lockdown was a temporary measure and that one way or another things would devolve to normal by… October. That was wrong. I had misjudged the degree to which one small branch of science, unable to see the wood for the trees, was able to grab hold of the levers of power and then decline to relinquish them, wrapped up in its modelling stats — here and in the wider world.

Nor did I quite envisage the extent to which Covid would be adopted into the political armoury of the absolutist liberal left — the stance that those who doubted the efficacy of government-led restrictions were as morally bereft as those who suggested that slavery was actually a bloody good thing for black folk, all things considered.

Nor did I expect the censorship on the part of those social media social justice warriors Google and Facebook, which banished dissent about the world’s reaction to this Chinese interloper and also banned people who called it a Chinese interloper. I still think that first lockdown was correct and that the government was tardy in both closing the borders and enforcing lockdown. But I did not quite grasp the extent to which the liberal left would embrace this virus, wrap their silly arms around it, and demand eight months later that we should all be paid for doing nothing and that people should be punished for not doing as they are told and carrying on meeting other people and not masking up and not taking the knee.

It is yet another area of our lives in which their fairytale view of the world has come to predominate: nobody has to die, ever! Nor work! The left claims it has the experts on its side. But as is always the case, it doesn’t. It has the institutions, the quangos, the supranational bodies, all of which have skin in the game.

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