Toby Young has responded to my Quillette article about COVID cranks. He says he 'won’t bother responding to [my] detailed criticisms of Ivor Cummins and Michael Yeadon because I don’t think the case against the lockdown policy stands or falls on whether their analysis is correct.'
Fair enough, but it was the claims made by such people that were the focus of my piece. Those who want a more liberal approach have been sullied by their association with such crackpots. That is regrettable because it gives the 'Zero Covid' fanatics the edge in the debate about when to end the current lockdown.
Our contention is that the whole panoply of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that governments around the world have used to try and control the pandemic—closing schools and gyms, shutting non-essential shops, banning household mixing, restricting travel, telling people they can’t leave their homes without a reasonable excuse, etc.—have been largely ineffective.
What these data seem to show is that the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in each country rises and falls—and then rises and falls again, although less steeply as the virus moves towards endemic equilibrium—according to a similar pattern regardless of what NPIs governments impose.
If lockdowns work, you’d expect to see an inverse correlation between the severity of the NPIs a country puts in place and the number of COVID deaths per capita, but you don’t.
On the contrary, deaths per million were actually lower in those US states that didn’t shut down than in those that did—at least in the first seven-and-a-half months of last year.
This is Israel. It had a big spike in cases in August and September (contrary to the theory that COVID-19 is a seasonal virus) which it addressed with a lockdown beginning 18 September. Cases began falling from 27 September. In the subsequent wave, it introduced a hard lockdown on 7 January and case numbers fell from the 17 January.
This is the Czech Republic, or Czechia as it now prefers to be known. It introduced a lockdown on 22 October and cases started falling after the 27 October. A subsequent lockdown began on 27 December, with case numbers peaking on 7 January.
This is Ireland. It had a huge outbreak over the Christmas period which was rapidly brought under control by a lockdown that began on 31 December. Case numbers peaked on 8 January.
Actually, it is evidence that lockdowns are not the only thing that works - and the other things that work are very close to being lockdowns. London and large parts of the south east were put into Tier 4 on 20 December. The schools were closed for the Christmas holidays at around the same time. This meant that the most heavily populated parts of the country were already in lockdown in all but name. Everywhere else was in Tier 3. There was not a pub or restaurant open in the country. Many workplaces were closed over Christmas.
Incidentally, Snowdon’s claim that the first British lockdown reduced COVID infections is easy to debunk. You just look at when deaths peaked in England and Wales—April 8th—go back three weeks, which is the estimated time from infection to death among the roughly one in 400 infected people who succumb to the disease, and you get to March 19th, indicating infections peaked five days before the lockdown was imposed.
But even though sceptics lack a convincing hypothesis to explain why lockdowns don’t work, I don’t think we’re obliged to come up with one. Surely, the onus should be on governments to show that lockdowns work if they’re going to suspend their citizens’ civil liberties? For me, as a classical liberal, this is the most decisive argument against the draconian controls democratic governments have imposed in the hope of mitigating the impact of the virus.