The Ne Plus Ultra of Zero-Zealotry

26 February 2021  /  Updated 7 March 2021

by Guy de la Bédoyère

Those of us contribute to and read Lockdown Sceptics have had the opportunity to consider a wide range of views. There’s been a healthy debate. I’ve tried to steer something of a middle course in an effort to find common ground that might help us get out of this mess.

I’ll lay my cards on the table. I am going to be vaccinated as soon as I can. That is my choice, and I am glad that it is my choice.

I accept for example that in order to protect other people I needed to learn to drive and to have a driving licence to prove it. Similarly, I accept the normal passport as a means of proving who I am and protecting me and everyone else from maniacs and others not entitled to come to this country. I also accept that there are consequences of making choices. If I choose not to have a driving licence, then I would have to accept I cannot drive on a public road. And I doubt if anyone would want me to. If I chose freely not to have a passport then I would not be allowed to travel. So, I have no problem with the notion of vaccine choice as another facet of choice with consequences. I grew up at a time when large numbers of children had polio, a disease that gradually dwindled away as a result of the vaccine program.

That is all about freedom of choice. However, occasionally something pops up that is so horrifying it sends a chill down my spine, and freedom of choice is at the heart of it.

I have just opened the latest edition of New Statesman and found myself reading an article by Professor Gabriel Scally, president of the epidemiology and public health section of the Royal Society of Medicine. The article, which extols the virtues of Zero Covid, is a portal into the level of insanity evolving behind closed doors among some of the scientific community.

In this extraordinary piece of zero-zealotry Scally is pleased to point out that many of the countries which have dealt with the pandemic ‘effectively’ are islands. Oblivious to the vastly differing population sizes and profiles, and geographical locations, he lumps them together with the success achieved by one-party states in other geographical settings like Thailand and Vietnam (where the median age is lower, and the incidence of obesity is also lower). One has an instant sense of where this is going.

He’s keen to claim that Zero Covid is gaining international traction, claiming that the movement shares this aspiration:

There is a common goal of eliminating the virus and giving everyone an open, fully functioning social, educational and economic life.

He promptly goes on to explain how this will be managed by a policy of institutionalised isolation not only from the rest of the world but also within the country.

Scally lays out the three requirements to achieve this utopian vision:

  • A strict, time-limited lockdown (how often have we heard that before?)
  • All international travellers to be treated as infected until proven otherwise and contained in quarantine until then
  • A test and trace system “that works” (no details supplied)

That’s the way to “end national lockdowns”, he says. Of course, Scally is aware that ‘Zero Covid’ doesn’t mean infections won’t pop up. But he has a solution to that. His pioneering vision is to create ‘green zones’ which he defines as “areas of low infection” to which access “should be restricted”. In other words, he wants subsidiary compounds within the prison island, maintained by communities being “mobilized” – a form of epidemiological Truman Show. What this means in practice he neatly sidesteps but I’ll return to this later. More ‘mobilization’ is to be used in areas with high infection with the help of “public health specialists and nurses”.

Hardly a means to the open and fully functioning society he promises.

Needless to say, vaccines are both praised and immediately undermined. In the world of the Zero Covid fantasist the vaccines are no better than a mitigating agency. All the usual arguments about those who cannot be vaccinated, or the difficulties involved in reaching high levels of vaccination in a population are trotted out. But he has another reason to diminish vaccines:

So far, none of the vaccines have been made available to children and it is unacceptable for us to allow them to be exposed to a virus that produces long-lasting symptoms in at least one in eight of the schoolchildren who are infected.

You’ll see here that he uses the figure of one in eight children having long-term symptoms to make it sound like a significant proportion of all children. In fact, as we all know children overall hardly suffer from Covid at all. That is not to dismiss the impact on the very small number who do suffer badly but I do not know of any other condition that affects children on this scale and which has been used an argument to inhibit the freedom of the whole of society to function properly. Like almost everyone else of my generation I was vaccinated against smallpox and a variety of other diseases. Not once was I ever told not to walk the streets in case I gave smallpox to someone else.

Then he moves on to the usual fears of theoretical and speculative possibilities. I’m surprised he hasn’t included the prospect of being struck by a meteorite:

The possibility that the virus could affect the brain, which may not result in immediate illness but could be connected with neurological problems in the future, cannot be easily cast aside. There is a possible precedent: epidemiologists found an increased number of Parkinson’s disease cases in the US among those who lived through the 1918 Spanish flu.

The only way to ensure the safety of the whole population is to take maximum advantage of vaccination and supplement it with a zero-Covid solution, including green zones. The alternative approach, one that tolerates an acceptable level of death from Covid, is ethically dubious and medically and scientifically avoidable.

As far as Scally is concerned, the high level of winter deaths traditionally attributed to influenza is false and that the real culprits are poor housing, fuel poverty, and poor access to medical care. He says:

The “living with Covid” mantra is well illustrated by the oft-repeated claim that Covid is no worse than influenza. No clinician working on a Covid ward could agree with that claim. In any case, it is wrong that the UK tolerates such a high level of excess winter deaths and wrongly attributes them to “influenza”, rather than considering them the result of low-quality housing, fuel poverty, and poor access to medical care.

That all these factors have improved drastically in recent decades, and thereby hugely increased longevity in this country since the Second World War is something he is oblivious to but his purpose here is to widen the gap between Covid and influenza to make the former seem relatively worse. Funnily enough, by questioning the official attribution of excess winter deaths to influenza he emerges as something of an Influenza Denier, which struck me as supremely ironic, given the trope that lockdown sceptics are all Covid Deniers.

He finishes up:

Countries such as Taiwan and New Zealand that have successfully contained COVID-19 and reduced it to a tiny number of cases have been able to protect their economies from substantial damage and provide their citizens with a near-normal life experience. There are signs from other countries, such as Germany and Ireland, that people and politicians are shifting towards adopting Zero Covid as their preferred approach. 

The UK government needs to look at countries that have handled Covid well, find out what made them so successful and copy it. At the heart of an elimination strategy will be the realisation that Britain is an island and that this confers tremendous advantages in attempting to suppress infectious diseases. Even at this late stage, there is still a chance to do the right things and save lives and livelihoods. 

I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions from that. His best ambition then is a ‘near normal’ if we follow his guidance – his version of Utopia. Oddly, he said earlier on “fully functioning social, educational and economic life” would be the result.

Scally leaves so many unanswered questions, largely I suspect because of what seems to be his own lack of a wider cultural and historical perspective.

How, for instance, does he propose to achieve the mass compliance in a policy of dividing Britain into zones defined by infection levels with semi-closed local borders policed by phalanxes of mobilised locals? Does he propose brainwashing or terror to compel everyone into obedience? Is the plan to have mobs of pitchfork-wielding yokels manning barricades round country towns and villages? Armoured cars circling the M25? Motor torpedo boats in the Channel?

How does he propose to pay for all this?

Perhaps Scally is more on the ball than I have given him credit for. After all, we’ve seen to our eternal regret how many freedom-loving Brits have dived in enthusiastically to be imprisoned in their own homes, snitch on their neighbours, and listen with credulity to the daily manipulation of figures and other stories in order to be terrorised into submission.

But you’ll never get everyone on side. How would he recommend the Government deal with any transgressors or dissenters? Clearly no diversity of opinion can be tolerated but it’s bound to emerge. At what point do concentration camps become the only option?

Naturally, since if the stakes are as high as he claims then it would be unthinkable to risk the Government of the day being voted out and changing policy.

Since by definition not all other countries are islands, presumably he believes that the disease will be out of control in some of them and therefore we should be isolated from them.

The most egregious part of the consummate naivety (or should I say fanaticism?) enshrined in Scally’s article is that everything he is recommending forms an integral part of the mechanisms that turn countries into totalitarian states. Perhaps that is what he wants. He certainly seems to admire one-party states, an affliction Lockdown Sceptics has found in other parts of the lockdown-zealot camp.

It’s not hard to see why a certain type of scientific mindset would go down that road. Desperate to control behaviour to achieve a predicted outcome and buoyed up with a frightening level of religious style zealotry, there is only a short distance to travel to start admiring states that operate coercion and then imitating them. Indeed, Scally explicitly says they should be copied. Therein lies the end of free speech and freedom of movement, and the constant threat that wherever one lives might at a moment’s notice be plunged back into extreme measures.

Scally steers clear of giving any hint of how long he wants these measures enforced. How convenient. I was left with the clear impression that as far as he is concerned our island status means we should knuckle down and live like this in perpetuity.

He says nothing about the nations unable to exploit their status as non-islands. His vision then is of selfish and self-serving inward-looking countries and populations, isolating themselves from the world and concerned only with themselves. You might think an epidemiologist might be capable of considering the implications for isolated communities and susceptibility to infection from other sources. That’s how it was in the remoter past. The arrival of one boat could wipe out a whole community.

Ultimately, Scally’s vision of the future is Britain and other countries being turned into incarcerated and heavily policed island societies on a war footing devoted exclusively to one purpose: the devotion of all time and resources to eliminating a disease by living in perpetual fear of it. Nothing else matters.

One of the other many considerations he does not trouble to think about is what the endgame is supposed to be, just in terms of death, let alone the political and social consequences. I fear it is a fantasy of a disease-free world where the only way to die is to take your own life or expire bedridden and incontinent in a hospital bed in humiliating despair. Now, that really is a dystopian prospect.

Speaking for myself, I hope I do not seem trite when I say I would rather not live than exist in Professor Scally’s world vision.

The tragedy of Scally’s perspective, which I have no doubt he believes in sincerely, is that it’s built on an unedifying level of cultural and historical ignorance. One of the most terrible consequences of this ghastly crisis has been the undue level of influence afforded by a hapless Government to a class of ‘expert’ whose narrow experience and knowledge of human society has led them to make blanket recommendations that have already had a devastating level of fallout and will scar most of us for the rest of our lives.

What should we do when confronted with this sort of argument? On one hand we should be very, very afraid of where it could lead. Hopefully, Scally and his associates are sufficiently out on a limb that they will not either become mainstream or gain traction with Government.

We must acknowledge his right to express his views. But we cannot sit to one side and hope that he and his ilk will disappear without trace. We must stand fast or else everything life was ever worth living for will be sacrificed on the altar of the Cult of Zero Covid presided over by dangerous maniacs. And let’s not forget that the most dangerous of all maniacs are the zealots with smiles on their faces who are telling you they know what’s best for you.

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.

Dr Samuel Johnson (1780)

Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect.

John Keats (1819)