Thursday, 28 May 2020

The rewriting of lockdown history

The history of the UK's coronavirus response is being rapidly rewritten as the arse-covering begins ahead of the inevitable enquiry. This was exemplified in a Sunday Times article at the weekend which portrayed the 'herd immunity' strategy as a political response and the subsequent lockdown as a triumph for science.

However, as I argue in this article for The Critic, this is pretty much the opposite of what happened.

Now in its tenth week, Britain’s lockdown has been around long enough for it to develop its own founding myth. The folklore goes something like this: 

Once upon a time there was a wicked and reckless government. When a deadly new disease reached its shores, the government decided to let nature take its course. The politicians believed that there was no point trying to stop the virus. They thought it should be allowed to run rampant until the population had achieved herd immunity.

Scientists were very concerned by the government’s approach. They thought the politicians were being cavalier and urged them to reconsider, but the politicians would not listen. It was not until a brave scientist called Neil Ferguson showed how many people would die if the government did not introduce a lockdown that the politicians started to realise that they had been wrong. Even after this warning, they dithered and delayed for a whole week before they did what was needed. If only they had listened to the scientists earlier, many lives would have been saved. 

This narrative has become the conventional wisdom and it was reinforced in a lengthy article in the Sunday Times at the weekend. It has obvious appeal to the government’s natural opponents and it even has something for lockdown sceptics in that it puts their villain, ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, in a starring role. But it is fundamentally wrong. The idea that the government was pursuing a strategy of herd immunity for ideological reasons until scientists forced them to follow the science is an inversion of the truth.

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