Lockdown Enthusiasts Belatedly Recognise Limitations of ‘Precautionary Principle’

“The EU, and often its member states, doggedly follows the ‘precautionary principle’,” writes Matthew Lesh in CapX, blaming this principle for the suspension of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in various EU countries. But hang on a minute. Is this the same Matthew Lesh who has been an enthusiastic cheer leader for the British lockdowns? He goes on to say about this rationale for erring on the side of caution: “To pass the precautionary principle challenge requires doing the impossible: proving something is completely safe. Based on this logic, if stairs or pools were invented today they would be forbidden because of the risks of falling and drowning.”

Well quite. In case it’s escaped your attention, Matthew, this is precisely the argument that lockdown sceptics have been making for the past year. It was the rigid application of the precautionary principle that led governments across the world to lock their citizens in their homes last year because the dangers posed by SARS-CoV-2 were still largely unknown. Or, more precisely, it was the combination of the precautionary principle and short-termism that led to the embrace of the lockdown policy, with the priority of political leaders being to prevent immediate harm befalling their populations even if the excessive precautions they took ended up causing far greater harm in the long-term. And this, surely, is exactly the combination that’s behind the AstraZeneca ban in continental Europe. Better to avoid the immediate political fallout caused by a handful of adverse events apparently caused by the vaccine than provide their populations with lasting protection from infection.

If people like Matthew Lesh can see how disastrous the application of this principle is to the vaccine rollout, how can they not see how disastrous it was when applied to managing the pandemic last year? And, of course, it isn’t just Matthew, but vast numbers of pro-vaxxers who were gripped by the same panic European leaders are now gripped by this time last year.

The senior financial journalist who’s been a longtime contributor to Lockdown Sceptics had this to say about the double-standards of the lockdown zealots.

It’s half amusing to see commentators decrying the Europeans for the the misuse of the ‘precautionary principle’ when suspending the Astra-Zeneca vaccination (e.g. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the Telegraph that the “French Precautionary Principle is literally killing Europe”. Also the Economist’s Health Correspondent said on BBC radio today that it is folly to apply the precautionary principle during a pandemic. But it is the same precautionary principle that was invoked 12 months ago to justify lockdowns in the first place – on the grounds that we didn’t know the covid infection fatality rate, its reproduction number and because hospitals might possibly be overwhelmed. The same precautionary principle was later invoked to justify two-metre social distancing, face masks, school closures, further lockdowns, etc. It seems that almost every day for 12 months we have had to endure some member of SAGE, notably Chris Whitty, appealing to the precautionary principle to justify some repressive measure unsupported by reliable data. Not only does the extreme risk aversion of the precautionary principle ignore costs (as LS has noted many times over the last year), but it returns to bite its advocates. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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