How Did the Pro-Lockdown Consensus Emerge?

7 April 2021

National and international pandemic preparedness guidelines for managing influenza outbreaks1, 2 and established science3 were advocated by government scientific advisers in early 2020 as a realistic response to SAR-CoV-2.4, 14 However, these approaches were abandoned in March 2020 in favour of a mandatory lockdown of the entire population, including both the healthy and vulnerable. This heavy-handed public health intervention was initiated by the Chinese Communist Party but subsequently corroborated by Imperial College models and mimicked throughout the West. It was obvious at the outset that lockdown would result in the suspension of civil liberties and culminate in social and economic devastation.5, 6, 7, 8, 9 Consequent excess morbidity and mortality in the general population is increasingly evident.10 Yet lockdown was, and continues to be, embraced by politicians, the medical and public health professions and the media. More curiously, despite the lockdown being mandated by law, giving the public no option but to comply, the public remains acquiescent with polling showing continued support for lockdown.11 This begs the question, why? Why were the pandemic preparedness guidelines abandoned? Why has the lockdown been universally embraced and the public so compliant? Why has The Government and its scientific advisors been able to “get away with it”?12 Why has a public health policy that has clearly done more harm than good been clung on to? It has been suggested the initial abandonment of the pandemic preparedness guidelines was driven by the precautionary principle based on flawed myopic model predictions, short-term-ism and political expediency13, 14 – the Government needed to be seen to be doing ‘something’, more specifically it needed to be seen to be doing ‘what everybody else was doing’ (i.e. locking down). However, lockdown occurred within the milieu of rising secularism and progressivism, encompassing safety-ism and now lockdown ideology, a shift in the mainstream media from objective journalism to activism, and an increasingly pervasive and vitriolic social media and popular culture. The complex interplay of all of these factors likely created the conditions for lockdown to be instituted and maintained with little resistance.

Over the past several decades society has become predominantly secular. Simultaneously left-wing progressivism (‘woke-ism’) has become entrenched in academia and the mainstream media,15 ramping up to full volume the past few years. Progressivism has permeated public consciousness through activism by the mainstream media, social media and popular culture, filling the void once occupied by orthodox religion. As a consequence, victimhood, safety-ism and lockdown (and other Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions [NPIs]) adherence are prevailing narratives, with much of the public looking to big-government to ‘save them’ from any risk of SARS-CoV-2 through lockdown. This is particularly evident in the USA where support for NPIs tends to split down party lines. A signature of progressivism is the abuse and (attempted) ‘cancellation’ of anyone who objects to its ‘truth’. This now includes anyone who dares mention the scientific orthodoxy set out in the pandemic preparedness guidelines, other perfectly rational and feasible alternative strategies to the management of SARS-CoV-2, such as the Great Barrington Declaration,16 or actual facts that counter the lockdown dogma. This has been exacerbated by government failure to set up advisory committees comprising diverse academic opinion on all aspects of lockdown, including its detrimental effects. Consequently, lockdown ideology persists with few voices willing or able to contest it. The vitriol dished out to anyone who questions the wisdom of lockdown has been extraordinary, particularly on social media but also by mainstream journalists who insinuate that any opposing view is not valid. Lockdown ideology has also been corroborated by big tech which positions itself as progressive, with the removal or shadow banning of material contradicting the lockdown and NPI mantra from it platforms. Even the WHO has kowtowed to appease the lockdown ideologues by temporarily changing the established definition of herd immunity17, 18 and defining a confirmed ‘case’ as “a person with a positive Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT [PCR])” including in the absence of symptoms.19 Big-government lockdown, propagated as the only virtuous and effective response to SARS-CoV-2 by a vociferous media and biased government advisers, has been bought hook, line and sinker by a risk-averse public (and politicians).

Mainstream media has become a toxic mix of left wing activism and neurotic worst case scenario hyperbole, which has also fed government and public over-reaction to SARS-CoV-2. The slide towards progressive activism by the mainstream media, including supposed bastions of objectivity such as the BBC, has limited diversity to immutable traits rather than thoughts, including scientific opinion regarding the management of SARS-CoV-2. Token academics opposing lockdowns are occasionally interviewed by biased journalists ignorant of medical and public health ethics, basic epidemiology and immunology, outbreak control strategies and even the contents of the preparedness guidelines. Publicly influential journalists have repeatedly failed to ask the most obvious question even to the most uneducated: “should we be locking down at all?”. Rather, mainstream media has failed to convey the true risk of SARS-CoV-2 to the public and almost invariably assumes lockdown is established science and the only option to managing SARS-CoV-2. ‘Gotcha’ questions during political interviews are, therefore, almost invariably “why lockdowns were not sooner, harder or for longer?” Superimposed upon these distortions are the media’s preoccupation with the worst case scenario, no matter how unlikely, to pique interest to boost sales and clicks; and the willingness to broadcast government-funded public health campaigns, such as the “can you look him/her in the eyes”. The emotional blackmail and propaganda deliberately designed to frighten an already risk-averse public into surrendering its freedoms and common sense and buy into lockdown is extraordinary. This has been exacerbated by people unable to voice their doubts or concerns in the public square through protests being made illegal and by vociferous, virtue-signalling progressives on social media shutting down debate. Few media outlets have routinely given voice to the disquieted minority.

Rather than by conspiracy,20 the Government’s abandonment of established science for lockdown is more likely a combination of caving to pressure from a hostile pro-lockdown media and a panicked and risk-averse public, egged on by hyperbolic model predictions and over-cautious scientific advisors who failed to adhere to public health ethics and established science.21 Public and media enthusiasm for lockdown might have been curbed at the get-go had the Government secured broad scientific opinion on the likely impacts of lockdown and alternative strategies and presented a realistic cost-benefit analysis of the various strategies (and not offered to pay people to sit at home on furlough). Alternatively, the Government could simply have been confident in the pre-existing knowledge and experience of handling respiratory virus outbreaks detailed in the pandemic preparedness guidelines and bravely stuck to its guns as Sweden did. Rather the establishment opted for the precautionary principle, and now too much has been invested into lockdown for the Government or media to admit lockdown has been a disproportionate response to SARS-CoV-2, despite emerging evidence that lockdown is more damaging than effective.22, 23 With their eye on the inevitable national inquiry into the pandemic response, the Government (and media) have instead doubled down on lockdown advocacy.

The public’s embrace, or at least tolerance, of lockdown reflects the perfect storm of a widespread cultural shift towards progressivism and the failure of scientists and media to do their jobs properly, with a left wing medical and public health establishment and media (and public expectations) pushing our supposed right wing government down the authoritarian big-government population control route with little resistance. Lockdown was not instituted during the 1968 Hong Kong flu pandemic which killed at least 30,000 people in the UK and up to four million people globally, half of which were under 65 years of age,24 but here we are: the ‘new normal’ with no end in sight.

The author is a Russell Group University-trained epidemiologist.

References

1 DH, 2011. UK influenza pandemic preparedness strategy 2011: strategy for consultation. Department of Health.

2 WHO, 2019. Non-pharmaceutical public health measures for mitigating the risk and impact of epidemic and pandemic influenza.

3 CDC, 2020. Glossary: Herd immunity.

4 Sky News, 13 March 2020.

5 HART, 2021. COVID-19: an overview of the evidence. Economic impacts.

6 HART, 2021. COVID-19: an overview of the evidence. Covid policies and harms to children.

7 HART, 2021. COVID-19: an overview of the evidence. Psychological impact of the Government’s communication style and restrictive measures.

8 Butler, P. March 23rd 2021. “UK faces ‘Covid decade’ due to damage done by pandemic, says report”. The Guardian.

9 The British Academy. 2021. The COVID decade. Understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19.

10 HART, 2021. COVID-19: an overview of the evidence. Mortality data and COVID-19.

11 Ibbetson, C. January 5th 2021. Brits support new national lockdown. YouGov.

12 Whipple, T. December 25th 2020. “Professor Neil Ferguson: People don’t agree with lockdown and try to undermine the scientists”. The Times.

13 Young, T. March 16th 2021. “Lockdown Enthusiasts Belatedly Recognise Limitations of ‘Precautionary Principle”. Lockdown Sceptics.

14 Lee, J. March 17th 2021. Talk Radio interview starting at 2 hours and 38 minutes.

15 Sidwell, M. 2020. The Long March Through The Institutions: How the Left Won the Culture War. The New Culture Forum.

16 Great Barrington Declaration. 2020.

17 Mercola, J. January 18th 2021. “Violating Science, WHO Changes Meaning of Herd Immunity”. The Defender.

18 WHO. Updated December 31st 2020. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19”.

19 WHO COVID-19 [the disease]: Case definition. Updated December 16th 2020.

20 Wyatt, L. March 17th 2021 “Why did the government bin its own pandemic plan?” Conservative Woman.

21 Anon. March 6th 2021. “Follow the politics, not the science”. Lockdown Sceptics.

22 HART, 2021. COVID-19: an overview of the evidence.

23 AIER. December 19th 2020. “Lockdowns Do Not Control the Coronavirus: The Evidence”.

24 Honigsbaum, M. 2020. “Revisiting the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics”. The Lancet.