Features Australia New Zealand

A Covid retrospective

We contrarians warned of the harm lockdowns would do - and have done

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

Two years ago, I and a small group of multi-disciplinary New Zealand-based academics published our Covid Plan B. The plan was borne out of our unease at the prevailing Covid narrative and the New Zealand government’s decision to lockdown on 24 March 2020. In a nutshell we called for a focused protection-style approach that balanced the health response – the need to protect the vulnerable and elderly – with the need to maintain a functioning society and people’s rights.

Looking back over the intervening period I am struck by a few things. Firstly, how we so absolutely failed to influence policy or balance the discussion. I take some heart in knowing that we were not the only ones. No alternative voices globally had, at that time, any impact changing the narrative or policy. Nonetheless, I remain to this day disappointed that we could not effect any change. In hindsight, maybe we were never going to.

Take one example. Our Plan B was headline news on Stuff on the morning of 14 April 2020, but by that afternoon the headline (using the same URL) changed from ‘Coronavirus: Lockdown rules should be relaxed, health experts say’ to ‘Coronavirus: Call for return to normal life puts tens of thousands at risk’. The edited article referenced the now all-too familiar ‘experts’ who rubbished us and our plan. That set the scene for the next 18 months – publish a reasoned, balanced and fully cited article then await the emotive take-down and ad hominem attacks from New Zealand’s ‘experts’. Rinse and repeat. I think we never really stood a chance.

Despite this, I am struck by how prescient our plan was. A Zero Covid eradication plan was, indeed, ultimately unrealistic – a fact people are now recognising, including the New Zealand government. Sajid Javid, the UK’s Health Secretary, recently described Zero Covid as ‘an absolute disaster’. One only has to look at the unfolding misery in Shanghai to see what a disaster Zero Covid was and is. The other major aspect was the social and economic damage likely wrought by lockdowns. Professor Paul Woolhouse (UK Sage member) has now described lockdowns as ‘a panic measure’ and ‘a monumental mistake on a global scale’. I agree – but let us not pretend these people were not warned. Economists, social scientists, mental health and legal experts and many more foresaw the social and economic impacts of restrictions as early as March 2020. And now we can see the totality of this fiasco, indeed catastrophe, laid bare. Hundreds of millions have been pushed into extreme poverty – mostly in the developing world. Disrupted childhood immunisation programs for vaccine-preventable illness have led to tens of thousands of child and maternal deaths in India alone. Mental health-related issues are sky-rocketing, especially in young people (I am witnessing this first-hand). Inalienable freedoms have been stripped away, some maybe never to return. Mandates have divided people and nations and led to people being deprived of their livelihoods. Healthcare systems the world over are dealing with backlogs of monumental proportions that will, no doubt, lead to the unnecessary deaths of millions. And governments have borrowed billions, leaving our young people to pick up the tab over the coming decades – all while high inflation punishes them further. The list goes on and on and on. Thankfully, the societal and economic devastation is being documented for posterity at collateralglobal.org.

All this abject failure stems from an inability (or unwillingness?) of the media, governments, and academia to provide any common sense or balance. In those early days I spoke to numerous academics and professionals who agreed with us. But none wanted to speak out for fear of attacks and concerns over their reputation. Had more people spoken up at the time we may have had an impact – who knows?

To some degree I was not surprised by the media and government handling of Covid and its narrative. Governments were evidently panicked into lockdown by dodgy modelling and egged on by a shrill media eager for sensational stories and clicks. But what has been most shocking to me, as an academic, has been the sheer mendacity – and I do not use that word lightly – of some in my profession. They have exaggerated and lied, manipulated data and people, terrified nations and launched vicious attacks to cancel ‘contrarians’. I believe they have caused irreversible damaged to academia’s standing and to global public health and policy. In April 2020 I wrote on Scoop Health that their actions were more akin to political activism than science. Sadly, it got much worse over the intervening period – to almost cult-like fervour.

As for me, I left New Zealand in 2021 and moved back to the United Kingdom. I had moved to New Zealand in 2014, obtained my PhD and was working as a post-doctoral researcher when Covid hit. New Zealand’s Zero Covid strategy meant closed borders and two weeks mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving in New Zealand (that is if you could get a spot – thousands could not). This meant that my wife and I had no idea when we would see our family, and especially my wife’s only child (my stepdaughter). So, we decided to sell up and leave the country and friends we loved.

My Covid experience has had some profound impacts on me. I am much more cynical now than then. And my faith and trust in academia, the media and government (it was always fairly low in government if I am honest) is broken. I suspect I am not alone. On the plus side, I have met kindred spirits and made new friends in New Zealand and across the globe – and I recently joined some of them working with Collateral Global. I may have failed to have any meaningful impact in altering Covid policy, but what I will now do is focus on helping catalogue the widespread societal damage and division created by those who so enthusiastically and aggressively created this mess. Maybe some of them will one day be held to account. I do hope so.

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For more information on Covid Plan B go to www.covidplanb.co.nz.

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