The Sunday Times has a long analytical piece today about how Britain beat Covid – a combination of vaccines, natural immunity and luck, apparently. The paper’s Data Projects Editor, Tom Calver, says one contributory factor was the Government’s decision to lift all restrictions on July 19th of last year, thereby ensuring that by the time we faced an Autumn wave many people who’d been infected and recovered over the summer had natural immunity:
About 22 million have caught it since July 19th, 2021 — England’s ‘freedom day’, when many Covid restrictions were removed. Britain was one of the few countries to maintain relatively high infection rates throughout 2021, yet hospital admissions never breached unsafe levels.
There were other reasons for opening up when we did. A supporter at the time, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “Leaving step four until the autumn carried a far greater risk. Delaying the opening of society would have pushed back more infections into the autumn, at a time when pressures on the health service may have been greater.
“There is a real case for the argument that opening society when we did and the resulting infection rates enabled us to avoid a big surge in hospitalisations and deaths this winter.”
What Calver neglects to mention is that the Sunday Times has been one of the biggest supporters of Covid restrictions.
Take this story, which the paper ran on July 18th, the day before restrictions were lifted: “Johnson swelters over ‘freedom day’ mayhem“. It begins:
Britain faces disruption to food supplies, transport networks and industry as COVID-19’s third wave intensifies, hours before Boris Johnson is set to lift most pandemic restrictions.
One of Britain’s largest retailers warned of “major disruption” that could leave gaps on shelves, while parts of the London Underground closed yesterday because of the number of staff instructed to self-isolate.
Then there was the notorious Sunday Times Insight Team report on Boris Johnson’s apparent failure to lockdown sooner and harder – “38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster” – an article that helped to frame the debate over whether to lockdown again and which, arguably, increased the pressure on the Government to impose further unnecessary lockdowns in November 2020 and January 2021. Indeed, that was probably the intention of the paper’s key source – described as “a senior adviser to Downing Street” and almost certainly Dominic Cummings. Here is an extract:
One day there will be an inquiry into the lack of preparations during those “lost” five weeks from January 24th. There will be questions about when politicians understood the severity of the threat, what the scientists told them and why so little was done to equip the National Health Service for the coming crisis. It will be the politicians who will face the most intense scrutiny.
Among the key points likely to be explored are why it took so long to recognise an urgent need for a massive boost in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers; ventilators to treat acute respiratory symptoms; and tests to detect the infection.
Any inquiry may also ask whether the Government’s failure to get to grips with the scale of the crisis in those early days had the knock-on effect of the national lockdown being introduced days or even weeks too late, causing many thousands more unnecessary deaths.
We have talked to scientists, academics, doctors, emergency planners, public officials and politicians about the root of the crisis and whether the Government should have known sooner and acted more swiftly to kick-start the Whitehall machine and put the NHS onto a war footing.
When that inquiry does eventually come, I hope it doesn’t confine itself to the terms of reference that – until recently – the Sunday Times has been pushing for: Why didn’t our bumbling Prime Minister lock down sooner and harder in 2020? A proper inquiry would look at the role of the mainstream media, and papers like the Sunday Times, in enthusiastically supporting what we now know to be the most catastrophic policy in Britain’s history.