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Revisionist lockdown history

The public health establishment is being whitewashed over COVID

The COVID-19 inquiry is a colossal waste of money. Not only will it never establish the truth about what happened in 2020-21, it is going out of its way to falsify the historical record to cover the backs of the public health establishment. It is a kangaroo court rewriting the recent past to paint flawed scientists in the most flattering light at the expense of the then-government.

If you think I exaggerate, watch the hearings from 19 October which recounted the new official history of March 2020 in capsule form. Questioned by an actual KC in front of an actual judge, this ridiculous pantomime saw Professor John Edmunds give his account of how he fought a losing battle against a government that had no strategy and didn’t seem to care how many people died. Along with the subsequently ennobled Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, he tried to raise the alarm as the number of Covid cases skyrocketed. Alas, the anguished cries of these revered scientists fell on deaf ears and tens of thousands of people died. Here is a typical excerpt:

Q. What I’m asking you, though, is why was that terrible conclusion, that dawning realisation that the virus was coming, it was a fatal pathogenic disease, and there was in practice, you understood, not much more than a hope that it could be controlled, why was that warning, why was that realisation not made more apparent to government in the middle of February, to the public —

A. Yeah.

Q. — to the United Kingdom —

A. Yeah.

Q. — that this pathogenic tsunami was coming?

A. So I distinctly remember my feeling at the time. I assumed that the government did know all of this. I mean, you know, I can’t believe that they didn’t,  quite honestly. I still can’t believe that they didn’t. So I assumed that they did know all of this, and that actions were being taken. I — the messaging at the time was very reassuring, and I assumed that there was a plan: let’s not concern people and bother people now, because we’ll have to —  we’ll have to get people prepared, and do it in the right way. That was my assumption at the time. Afterwards, I look back on it and think: actually, really, you know, was there a plan? I’m not sure. But I’d assumed that there was.

Q. It is absolutely vital, I make plain and put to you, that you of course, Professor Edmunds, had absolutely no personal responsibility for having to stand up and tell the government what it should be doing, what was going to happen, because you were part of SAGE, SPI-M-O, all the many bodies, and it was those bodies which had been constituted in order to give government advice; that’s a fair summary, is it not?

A. Yes, but it doesn’t stop me feeling that I had some responsibility.

Q. Well, if I may say so, that is very much to your credit.

This little dialogue gives you a flavour of the inquiry. The soft ball questioning from a sycophantic lawyer went on for over three hours. At every step, Edmunds and the “august and brilliant” organisations he worked with during the pandemic were given a free pass. They did their best. They knew what needed to be done. They sent e-mails. How tragic that the government wouldn’t listen.    

It is a pyramid of piffle. Like it or not, the government had a strategy in the early days of the pandemic. It was a strategy created by public health experts and it was presented on national television night after night. The strategy was to “flatten the curve” of infections to allow the virus to spread without getting out of control and overwhelming the NHS. It is surprising that John Edmunds does not remember this as he went on television to explain it on 13 March, seven days before the pubs were closed and ten days before the first lockdown.

That television interview on Channel 4 News is worth watching. Edmunds was put up against Tomas Pueyo, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had written an article on Medium in which he argued that the virus was spreading faster than the authorities realised and that since lockdowns were inevitable it would be better to introduce them sooner rather than later. Beamed in on Zoom, he could be seen holding his head in his hands as Edmunds said that “the only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity [through infection].”

When a clip of the interview was released on Twitter, internet blowhards who would spend the next two years demanding harder lockdowns scoffed at Channel 4 News for allowing a tech bro to pontificate about virology while a real expert was in the room. Similar scenes would unfold a few days later when the supermodel Caprice called for a lockdown on The Jeremy Vine Show. But it soon became clear that Pueyo’s amateur modelling was more accurate than that of SAGE and Edmunds spent the rest of the pandemic calling for lockdowns to be introduced fast and early. 

In the revised history of these events, Edmunds and his colleagues were desperate for the government to pull up the drawbridge in early March 2020. The inquiry saw an email from him dated 12 March in which he wrote: “We will have to do a lot more to manage this epidemic.” With the tone of a defence barrister cross-examining his own client, Hugh Keith KC told the good professor that “you plainly raised the alarm there”.

And yet the very next day he was on Channel 4 telling Pueyo to chill out. When asked if he agreed with the editor of the Lancet’s view that the government was “playing roulette with the public”, Edmunds replied “I don’t think they are, I think what they’re doing is trying to take it sensibly.” He was then asked when the next anti-Covid measures would be introduced.

Edmunds: Very soon now.

Presenter: In the next few days?

Edmunds: Within – certainly within a week or so.

Presenter: And these will be lockdowns of cities?

Edmunds: No, I don’t think we’re going to…

Presenter: We’re not going to go that far?

Edmunds: Not, not initially, but we may get there, yeah? We are going to be asking people to take extra measures, they’ve already been flagged up, you had them on your VT that you showed just before, the Prime Minister talking about the next measures that might be along the line.

Presenter: So you don’t think we’re dragging our feet on this? With possibly dangerous consequences?

Edmunds: I think we’re trying to stage it as best we can. 

One possible explanation for the vast difference between the new official history and the documented video evidence from the time is that Edmunds somehow felt obliged to defend the government in public despite his deep misgivings. This seems unlikely, but it would have been a question worth asking. Instead, the inquiry pretended that it had never happened. The KC mentioned that Edmunds had given interviews to the press, including one with Reuters in April 2020 and one with the Sunday Times in May 2020, but his broadcast appearances in March 2020 were delicately overlooked. The Sunday Times interview in May helped to create the lockdown’s founding myth that I wrote about at the time and which the inquiry is attempting to set in stone. By September, Edmunds was insisting that herd immunity “was never a strategy to follow that we discussed”. Except on live television, presumably.

I don’t wish to pick on Professor Edmunds who seems no worse than the other Covid modellers and in some ways was more alert to the social and economic damage of lockdowns. But none of this stuff was very long ago. The videos are still on YouTube. We cannot allow a quasi-judicial process to get away with memory-holing events that millions of people saw on television and which went viral on social media. Hold politicians to account by all means, but let’s ask some probing questions of the scientists who got it wrong time and time again too.

To be fair, one scientist did get a grilling at the inquiry. After Edmunds held court for three hours, Professor Carl Heneghan was given an hour to explain himself. Like Edmunds, Heneghan made some big mistakes during the pandemic, but his treatment was rather different. Much of his time was taken up by the KC questioning his credentials and asking him about the Great Barrington Declaration, which Heneghan had never signed. For the second time that day we were shown WhatsApp messages in which Heneghan was described as a “fuckwit”. Heneghan’s crime was to have been on a Zoom call with Boris Johnson in September 2020 in which he proposed a system of “focused protection” instead of lockdowns. Although Johnson was not persuaded by his arguments, the establishment has clearly never forgiven him.

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