Has Boris lost his faith in the vaccines? That’s certainly the impression you’d get from what he has said this morning. Speaking in 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said:
The numbers are down – of infections and hospitalisations and deaths. But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers – in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections – has not been achieved by the vaccination programme. People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing. And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown. So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.
Notice that he didn’t say it’s a matter of waiting for the vaccines to take effect. It now appears that, regardless of vaccinations operating at full power, the Prime Minister thinks “inevitably” we will see more infection, hospitalisation and death.
The PM added that “at the moment” he couldn’t see “any reason” to change his roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions.
At Lockdown Sceptics, of course, we can give him several reasons for getting a move on. Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi for starters. These states all currently have no restrictions at all, whether because they never had them (South Dakota), because they removed them after the first wave in the spring (Georgia and South Carolina) or in the autumn (Florida), or because they lifted them in the last few weeks (Mississippi and Texas). If lockdown is what brings infections down, what has brought them down in these states?
The claim that lockdowns “control” the coronavirus has no basis in the data or in the evidence-based (as opposed to model-based) scientific literature. No evidence-based study has found a statistically significant relationship between the severity or timing of interventions and Covid cases or death counts. It is “fake news”, to use the current parlance, and scientists and politicians need to stop repeating it as though doing so can make it true.
Looking just at the UK, it’s clear from the data that new daily infections peaked and began to fall before the lockdowns on all three occasions. Chris Whitty even admitted as much to MPs in July in relation to the first lockdown.
According to ONS data, new infections in the winter surge in England peaked in the week ending December 26th, nearly two weeks before the January lockdown and right in the middle of Christmas mingling that was predicted to cause a spike.
If lockdowns control the coronavirus then how can this be explained?
On one level it should be welcome that Boris is candidly admitting that the vaccines will not prevent all infections, hospitalisations and deaths. But then no one ever thought they would. The aim was just to make endemic Covid no worse than the usual pathogens we face, which many people believed requires effective vaccines. Now we have vaccines, there is no excuse not to lift restrictions, particularly seeing that places which have remained fully open even without vaccines have not seen catastrophic consequences, and often fared better than places with strict lockdowns.
COVID-19 outbreaks have consistently shown themselves to be self-limiting, regardless of what measures are or are not imposed. In some places the outbreaks are more severe, in some places less so. As with other similar seasonal respiratory pathogens this will be due to a combination of seasonality, the development of population immunity (including from vaccines, where available), the effectiveness of treatments, population density, and numerous other factors that might affect a population’s susceptibility to a particular pathogen. But on no occasion have the models attributing the differences to lockdowns been validated by empirical data.
As the Government appears to be preparing to pivot away from its vaccines-will-save-us narrative, the big danger is that what we get instead is not a freedom that accepts governments cannot prevent all evils, but a future of indefinite restrictions, periodically tightened and loosened, as the myth persists that only such measures are holding back the flood. If we are no longer to see the vaccines as our saviour, it is imperative that the Government shift to a zero restrictions approach, not a zero Covid one, and set us free without further delay.