True believers in the Covidean Cult may never let go of their fantasies, as to do so would be an admission of having behaved utterly foolishly for almost two years.

I am not trivialising Covid, nor its impact. It is clearly a nasty respiratory disease, and, if SARS-CoV-2 turns out to be a chimeric live attenuated virus funded by the US and manufactured in China, then it may well yet cause us problems in future, as well as a moral earthquake.

Be that as it may, it is – and, from the data available at the time, was – abundantly clear that lockdowns were a full-bore blunder of epic proportions; an unmitigated catastrophe.  

As pointed out by Professor Paul Woolhouse, a member of SAGE, it was already obvious in February 2020 that a universal “lockdown would not solve the problem… This is a highly discriminatory virus… It’s ageist, it’s sexist, it’s racist. And we certainly knew [that] before we went into lockdown”.  

This was not just obvious to those privy to secret government data sources. Prior to 23 March 2020 (the infamous date of the introduction of stay-at-home orders – “three weeks to flatten the curve”), it was crystal clear from the various petri dishes – outbreaks on the Diamond Princess, in Wuhan and in Bergamo – that we were not dealing with airborne novichok that might eviscerate humanity. Much like almost every seasonal respiratory disease epidemic (a rapid period of growth followed a rapid decline) the exponential growth phase was demonstrably over by the third weekend in March, well before the shutters came down.

The powers that be knew this. When Michael Gove claimed on 27 March 2020 that “we are all at risk… the virus does not discriminate”, he was either guilty of gross incompetence or untruthfulness. It is hard to believe the former – divisive as he might be, Gove is no idiot.

It seems that the government had been on the run during March due to organised manipulation of public opinion (the origin of which is unclear) and demands from unions. These were the true seeds of lockdown destruction: rather than stand up to this nonsense, the government chose the easy option of caving in to the hysteria. If the government – and its cheerleaders in the press – had instead chosen Churchillian leadership and a “keep calm and carry on” message, the Covid outcome would likely have been no different, but we would have avoided devastating lockdown damage. 

But by the end of March the “Schlieffen Plan” was in full flow. Retreat from the madness would have involved a recognition of the cowardly nature of some of the decisions made. A lack of official backbone – plus pressure from vested interests – meant that the die was cast. By early April, Parliament had surrendered unfettered power to Downing Street, the press and broadcasters had been muzzled by a combination of Ofcom dictat and the lure of taxpayer dollars for Covid advertising (this one-sided reporting persists, by the way: are you aware of the unfathomable developments in Canada’s current descent into tyranny?). 

Professor Woolhouse highlights the insanity: by April 2020 the ONS had opined on lockdown harm: “The best guess was that suppressing the virus would cost three times more [quality life] years [lost] than the disease itself”. Not only had the country embarked in March 2020 on a voyage into the unknown that would cause great harms – disproportionately affecting the poor, the vulnerable, the infirm – the ship’s captain and associated lackeys had made no attempt to quantify what we were letting ourselves in for. But rather than attempt to steer a safer course, attention turned to punishing any possible mutineers. Thus was formed the optimal conditions for the flourishing of the Covidean Cult, aided and abetted by the Four Horsemen of the Coronapocalypse:

  1. A belief in the efficacy and value of lockdowns and draconian restrictions;
  2. The crutch of highly questionable mass screening & testing programmes;
  3. The promotion of universal vaccine mandates; and
  4. Censorship, bad science and the stifling of rigorous debate (let’s face it, why should the editors of the British Medical Journal, founded in 1840, have to formally complain to Mark Zuckerberg about hapless factchecking by Facebook?).

Laura Dodsworth’s recent book, A State of Fear, has documented the obscene way in which the government followed SAGE’s advice to stoke the terror, thus rendering a rapid return to rationality nigh-on impossible. The malaise goes deep: consultant clinical psychologist Gary Sidley has outlined how government agencies shamelessly and unethically twisted public opinion. Layered onto these devious tactics, various officials and organisations that should know better promulgated preposterous lies. Well-heeled government advisors promoted excruciatingly outlandish – and repeatedly incorrect – doom-laden forecasts that should have resulted in professional humiliation, not knighthoods.  

Attempts to explain away these blunders (who remembers the “magic has started”?) are frankly embarrassing – but cognitive dissonance is pervasive, especially if the alternative is admitting error. 

With the usual checks and balances totally out of kilter, it was left to lonely voices to challenge union demands for further restrictions and subsequent lockdowns, to no avail. The outcome has been disastrous policy overreach and a huge misallocation of resources – the focus on “jabs in arms”, social distancing and movement curtailment (rather than the more important questions of whether lives and livelihoods are being a saved and life chances improved) is a classic example of the McNamara fallacy in action. How, for example, did it come to pass that an “adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable” almost became mandatory and is now being offered to 5-year-old children, despite unanswered questions about excess mortality in young people since the jab rollout?

Rational questions like this seem to be taboo, all because challenging the official narrative risks pointing out the madness of everything that has happened over the last 24 months.  

The spawn of this great folly (including misinformation such as “vaccinated people become “dead ends for the coronavirus”) has been an unbelievable overspend on vaccines, testing, lost economic utility and a medical tsunami of death, pain and separation. Those children that died alone? Those pensioners abandoned to their fate, dying of thirst? The wanton wasteful spend on testing, vaccines, plastic PPE that has been tipped into landfill or incinerated?

The most optimistic thing that can be said is that we have lived through a gigantic collective delusion that lasted far longer than it should have done. As for the pessimistic view… well, as painful as it is to admit it, there are various conspiracy theorists out there who have recently got more things right than wrong. 

So to those who settled down to a quiet period of working from home or furlough-subsidised rest and recuperation back in the sunny spring of 2020, I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. But spare a thought for those whose lives were totally smashed up and trashed by draconian policies that will haunt them until the end of their days. Yes, you were tricked into thinking that you were doing the right thing. But you went along with a policy that caused untold harm and did little – if any – good.

Dr Alex Starling (@alexstarling77) is an advisor to and non-executive director of various early-stage technology companies.