Ross Clark explains in the Daily Mail (3 November) how Boris Johnson’s ‘experts’ have manipulated data to terrify England into Lockdown 2.0. Democracies rule by informed consent of the governed. Dictatorships use fear of imagined enemies to generate support and use brute force to silence dissent. Encouraging citizens to snitch on rule breakers ‘doing the wrong thing’ has echoes of Nazi and Stasi Germany. Creating a neighbourhood informer society will destroy civic trust. Those who hid Anne Frank defied the law while those who betrayed her helped to enforce it.
Edinburgh University’s Raj Bhopal warns that ‘striking fear into the minds of the people or punishing them… is not advocated in any public health strategy’. Yet, as South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem said on 28 September: ‘This pandemic used emotion and fear to manipulate people in ways that we’ve never seen before’. Instead of offering reassurance, government and media hysteria amplified the alarmism of mathematical models. While clearly a grave infectious disease, with 99 per cent of active cases being mild and at 2.4 per cent of global deaths from all causes, Covid doesn’t signify the end of the world: Henny Penny and Chicken Little can relax over a cuppa.
The catalogue of harms from panic is long: see www.thepriceofpanic.com. Lockdowns and visible measures like masks directly contribute to panic over a virus that for most countries is within the envelope of winter flus. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 71 per cent ‘always’ and 14 per cent ‘often’ wore a mask in the fortnight before illness. If 85 per cent of infected people confessed to never or rarely wearing masks, governments and the media would hammer this relentlessly to prove the dangers of not masking. But in reverse the incontrovertible-if-inconvenient truth of ineffectiveness is quietly ignored.
These outward symbols of submissiveness dehumanise us. They are a highly visible reminder of mass fear, a simple technique to identify and demonise the ‘deviant’, and an obstacle to returning to the old normal. Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell insists the evidence that masks check the spread of coronavirus is weak and any beneficial impact is small. Consequently, ‘authorities actively discouraged people from wearing face masks’ that are ‘often worn the wrong way’, offer ‘a false sense of safety’ and ‘would spread panic’. The CDC evidence is powerfully buttressed in 12 graphs from Yinon Weiss in the Federalist (29 October). In country after country and in US states, caseloads surged despite universal mask mandates – and did not surge in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which did not mandate masks.
As of 4 November, there were 1.21 million Covid-19 deaths in the world, making it the year’s eighth-deadliest killer. Coronary heart diseases had killed 7.94m, strokes another 4.86m, Alzheimer’s and dementia 1.67m and suicides 665,700. With heart diseases and strokes, not to mention the several million killed by various cancers, the monopolisation of public health by Covid-19 would have added to the toll with many deaths that could have been avoided with earlier screening, detection and treatment. In the case of mental health and suicide, lockdowns haven’t just impeded early detection and treatment; they’ve contributed directly to the stress and anxiety through alarmism, fear, loneliness, disorientation and forced separation from familiar comfort givers within the family.
Aided by complicit media, governments have manipulated the public and maintained mass fear by a deliberate omission of the normal state of affairs. This does raise suspicions about the extent to which the distortion of proportionality and perspective is driven by calculated fearmongering. How can we remedy the situation where medical science informs us that over 90 per cent of Covid deaths are the elderly, but many people’s takeaway is that 90 per cent of elderly will die of coronavirus?
Lord Jonathan Sumption, former Justice of the UK Supreme Court, is a passionate defender of free society whose eloquence of expression is matched by an elegance of legal reasoning. In the Cambridge Freshfields Annual Law Lecture on 27 October, he noted: ‘Historically, fear has always been the most potent instrument of the authoritarian state’. With Covid, fear ‘was deliberately stoked up by the government’ through careful language, daily press conferences, alarmist projections, ‘manipulative use of selected statistics’ and ‘the presentation of exceptional tragedies as if they were the normal effects of Covid-19’. Victorians, take note.
‘This is how freedom dies’, Sumption warns. Societies usually lose their liberty not under the jackboot of a despot but ‘because people voluntarily surrendered their liberty out of fear of some threat’. Fear ‘promotes intolerant conformism’ and ‘encourages abuse against anyone who steps out of line’. These are ‘the authentic ingredients of a totalitarian society’. The government had fomented fear over coronavirus in order to justify lockdown restrictions that represent the ‘most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country’. Recalling Lord Acton’s dictum on the absolutely corrupting influence of absolute power, he warns: ‘Ministers do not readily surrender coercive powers when the need has passed’.
In ‘Willing Slaves of the Welfare State’, published in the Observer in 1958, C. S. Lewis warned with remarkable prescience: ‘I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come in’. As governments ‘increasingly rely on the advice of scientists .. in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets’. ‘Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms’ is our decision, not theirs.
Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan reported in the Financial Times (27 Octobes) that people losing faith in information on Covid-19 from the government and mainstream media were ‘vulnerable to misinformation’. The FT’s subscribers are the world’s news reading elite. The most liked comments condemned the ‘sensationalist and non-questioning mouthpieces of hysteria’ as ‘appalling, alarmist and political at every tiny opportunity’. The BBC and FT were not exempted from the harsh criticism about ‘the shower of awful media’. One accused the FT of having managed ‘to make an art of lying by omission’. Another rued the endless ‘list of BS spouted by governments and their media lackeys with zero critical thought’.
I grew up with the BBC as the gold standard of trustworthy journalism. So the saddest comment for me, albeit on a different site, was: ‘Is that true? Or did you hear it on the BBC’?
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