Where is the modelling for the societal consequences of lockdown?
We have allowed skewed data to distract us from the devastating collateral damage of restrictions, particularly on education.
Concerns around the Government’s Covid advice are nothing new. Since the first lockdown in 2020 a number of people have wondered how the advice on the potential impacts of policies was put together. The mantra that we “follow the science” suggested that the facts were clear, unequivocal and agreed, which, as it turns out, was not the case.
It is thanks to the assumptions — sometimes erroneous — which inform supposedly scientific models that a significant number of restrictions over the last two years have not just been wrong but very wrong.
This has, until very recently, been easy to say but difficult to demonstrate. But we finally saw it in black and white in a short but very remarkably revealing Twitter exchange between Telegraph columnist Fraser Nelson and Professor Medley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is a member of Sage. It showed the process: that policy makers tell the modellers what they require to inform their policy or, as Fraser put it, “policy led evidence making”.
In the case of omicron it meant using the assumption that it was as potent as the delta variant. The resultant outcome became suitably dire. Yet if one looks at the data adjusted for vaccination status, the risk of hospital admission for newly diagnosed adults is approximately one third lower than in the first wave. The latest data from areas such as Northamptonshire seems to support this.
We have unfortunately grown used to the sequence leading up to lockdown — the dire models, the emergency meetings, the scientists on the radio — although it remains questionable that lockdowns are an effective way to tackle the virus, as Nervtag minutes themselves admit. Even if they do reduce transmission temporarily, the important point is at what economic and human cost?
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) recently published a paper on the effects of lockdown in education. It found that pupil absences grew by over half to just under 100,000. Missing school, it goes without saying, has extraordinary long-term consequences, including acting as a conveyor belt to gangs and crime.
Furthermore, disadvantaged children have been pushed further behind peers from wealthier households. We already know that disadvantaged children are on average 18 months behind when they take their GCSEs but the lockdown has made that much, much worse, blighting their future prospects. Catching up will add huge pressure to the already-stretched education system.
The CSJ also found that disadvantaged families have been hit by a rise in personal debt, up by a third since the pandemic and many have fallen into brutal loan sharks. These human costs are enormous — not to mention the cancelled treatments for cancer, heart disease and other critical ailments. Including mental health.
As government borrowing spirals and hospitality stares collapse in the face, we should wonder whether the Government has properly included the unintended human and economic consequences of lockdown in the Sage process. I’m told the scientists claim they are being given much less slack than last year, yet we find ourselves in the all-too-familiar march to lockdown.
The reality is that on a number of fronts, we are not in the same position as we were when delta peaked in January this year. We have the Government’s hugely successful vaccine rollout and the latest powerful antivirals available. The one area which requires more work is the unvaccinated, who are something like five times more likely to be hospitalised. They hold the key to easing the burden on the NHS.
We must avoid another lockdown for that, I believe, would be a wrecking ball through our society and economy.