Former Chancellor George Osborne today queried whether schools should have been shut during Britain’s coronavirus lockdowns as he gave evidence to the official Covid Inquiry. The Mail has more.
The ex-Chancellor claimed it was still an open question as to whether children should have been prevented from attending classrooms when the pandemic hit.
He said there were “absolutely critical questions about balancing the life expectancy of an 80-year-old versus the educational opportunities of an eight-year-old”.
Mr. Osborne, who was in charge of the Treasury between 2010 and 2016, admitted there was “no planning” done by his department for nationwide lockdowns while he was in office.
But he claimed it was “not clear” whether the economic support given to British businesses or workers – such as through the furlough scheme – would have been any better if plans had been drawn up in advance of the Covid outbreak in 2020.
He also defended his austerity policies during his time in charge of the public finances, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and insisted they had made Britain better able to respond to the Covid crisis.
Mr. Osborne pointed to “poorer countries” not being able to afford lockdowns or provide loans to keep businesses afloat.
The former Chancellor gave evidence to the inquiry a day after his close political ally, ex-prime minister David Cameron, had been quizzed on how he’d prepared Britain for pandemics during his time in Downing Street.
Mr. Osborne suggested there were still a number of unanswered questions about the effectiveness of the global response to COVID-19 as he was grilled about a lack of Whitehall planning for the ‘stay at home’ message issued to households in 2020 and early 2021.
He said: “What I would observe now, just as a citizen who very much wants this inquiry to come up with some good answers, is I don’t think we still know the answer to some of those questions.
“I don’t want to jump ahead of this inquiry, but should the schools have been locked down in the way they were?
“Even now, after the pandemic, we don’t know the answer to those questions. Certainly I don’t and maybe the inquiry can get to the bottom of that.
“They are absolutely critical questions about balancing the life expectancy of an 80-year-old versus the educational opportunities of an 8-year-old.
“Incredibly hard questions and it’s not absolutely clear to me now that as a country we know, or the rest of the world knows, what the answer to those things is.
“The idea that all of this could have been forethought I don’t think is the case.”
Mr. Osborne admitted the Treasury did not plan for an extended lockdown in the U.K. when considering the possibility of a pandemic outbreak.
He said: “There was no planning done by the U.K. Treasury, or indeed as far as I’m aware, any Western treasury for asking the entire population to stay at home for months and months on end – essentially depriving large sectors of the economy like hospitality of all their customers for months and months to come.”
Osborne suggested that lockdown was China’s idea and Western governments were just copying the Communist regime, arguing that had pandemic exercises been done that considered lockdowns governments may have been better prepared to resist the Chinese-led groupthink. From the Telegraph:
“Would we all have gone into lockdown if China had not locked down in January and February? I think the Chinese lockdown is what gives the rest of the world the idea,” [Osborne] told the inquiry in his evidence.
“And it’s the overwhelming of the hospital system in northern Italy that then leads all Western governments to reach basically the same conclusion, which is we’ve got to do what the Chinese have done in order to try and preserve our capacity and our emergency wards.”
He said he wondered whether, if the Government had done a “tabletop exercise” in 2011 or 2012 on the matter, the same conclusion to lockdown would have been reached.
Meanwhile, Dame Sally Davies, who was England’s Chief Medical Officer from 2010 to 2019, said lockdowns were “awful” and had “damaged a generation”. But she still took the orthodox line and backed lockdowns, though “a week earlier”.
Studies comparing countries and regions have repeatedly shown that the stringency and timing of lockdowns did not have a significant impact on outcomes. Analysis has also shown that new daily coronavirus infections in England were declining before each of the three national lockdowns. Dame Sally’s successor Sir Chris Whitty himself pointed out to MPs in July 2020 that the R number had dropped below 1 ahead of the first national lockdown. But these lessons just never seem to stick.
From the Mail.
In her evidence [Dame Sally] hit out at lockdown, stating that while she agreed with it in principle, it had “damaged a generation”.
“It’s clear that no one thought about lockdown. I still think we should have locked down, although a week earlier,” she said.
“But during that we should have thought do we need to further? The damage I now see to children and students from Covid and the educational impact tells me that education has a terrific amount of work to do.
“We have damaged a generation and it is awful as head of a college in Cambridge watching these young people struggle.
“I know in pre-schools they haven’t learned how to socialise and play properly, they haven’t learned how to read at school. We must have plans for them.”
When asked by lead counsel Hugo Keith KC on whether not foreseeing the possibility of a lockdown when planning for a pandemic was “one of the more notable failures in this strategic planning”, Dame Sally again apologised, saying: “I’m sorry, we didn’t plan for that. I think I would prefer to have planned to not get us to that stage but we didn’t recognise that it could.”
What a shame that people who see clearly what a terrible policy lockdown was still feel compelled to back it. It’s this pathetic lack of courage to stand up against the tyranny of ineffective, disproportionate health policy that dooms us to repeat the horror again and again.