Government

Transport Department Finally Admits it Carried Out No Cost-Benefit Analysis Before Imposing Mask Mandates on Public Transport

Depending on how your lives have been affected by all the restrictions, July 2020 either feels like a lifetime ago or not. For Dr. Alan Black it is probably the former. This is because it took until June of this year for him to get an answer to a freedom of information request he submitted to the Department for Transport he submitted 11 months earlier. And no, it wasn’t because they were working from home…

The request? “Please can you provide me with the name and findings of the peer-reviewed study which led to the imposition of mandatory face coverings on public transport.”

The response? You guessed it, a refusal to comply. Worse still, when the Department finally did reply – having been forced to after Dr. Black complained to the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) – it admitted that it hadn’t bothered to undertake a study of the likely effect of mandatory masks on public transport when the measure was introduced on June 15th, 2020, and it still hasn’t bothered to this day.

The main issue here is not that the Government didn’t carry out any sort of cost-benefit analysis before imposing any of its restrictions – that’s not exactly newsworthy. The issue is the DfT’s heel-dragging. Dr. Black’s initial request was rejected by the Department for being “vexatious”. Well, I am not sure I can see anything vexatious about such a request. Neither did Dr. Black, which is why he persevered. He appealed the decision and asked for an internal review – and when that wasn’t successful he complained to the ICO.

Following the ICO’s intervention, the DfT claimed it didn’t respond to the request at the time because doing so would have caused “a disproportionate level of disruption” to the Department. That’s pretty weak. How about the disruption caused by issuing un-evidenced mask mandates on public transport?

The DfT’s response epitomises the Government’s reluctance to justify any of its Covid restrictions with hard evidence. Nowadays, anyone submitting an FOI request to a Government department not only has to wade through a forest of red tape, but as Dr. Black’s experience shows, Whitehall will use every trick in the book to conceal the fact that little or no thought went into the Government’s knee-jerk approach to managing the pandemic.

The Government’s Gamesmanship and Outright Cheating on Covid and Vaccines Diminishes Us All

There follows a guest post by Dr. Mark Shaw, a retired dentist and regular contributor to the Daily Sceptic, who says the Government’s handling of the pandemic has lost all sight of what honesty and fair play mean.

In my last post I mentioned how important sport is to me. From a young age it was becoming easier to see, through sport, what was right and wrong, fair or unfair. The rules of the game instilled moral lessons that would help me decide who I could trust – win or lose. Playing fair in competition brings to mind the words of Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

But there are many ways rules can be bent and players, whether professional or amateur, exploit this. I’ve been guilty of it myself. 

In the game of squash there are many instances where one might not be sure that a particular shot is strictly within the rules – and, if unsure, it seems reasonable to allow the game to play on. If present, a referee can decide on it. Sometimes players know that their shot or position is not within the rules but might see that the opponent or referee missed it. I might question an opponent after such an incident and I remember the ones that called this ‘gamesmanship’. But if a competitor does this repeatedly he or she gets a reputation, loses integrity and becomes known for cheating.

These particular aspects of sporting rules can reflect life. Gamesmanship isn’t sport and it is not fair. The moment we suspect foul play we should own up immediately. The gamesmanship element is then removed and that can give all involved mutual respect, the feeling of a greater good, and that it’s only a game. But I’ve learnt that this doesn’t always happen so have to ask what, when given the chance, did someone omit to say or do more than what he or she did actually say or do.

Looking at the way Covid has been handled by the Government I ask whether they have played fair or whether they have used gamesmanship to achieve their goals and whether the actual rules themselves were clean.

What have the Government and those in the media not said or done? Have they allowed full debate on focused protection and provided full unbiased, uncoercive, transparent information on issues such as masks, lockdowns, testing, the vaccination of healthy individuals and the efficacy and safety of these vaccines? Were any lockdown sceptic or vaccine sceptic journalists allowed to ask questions at any of the daily Government press briefings.

The UEFA Decision Shows the Government is Making Things up as it Goes Along

Following pressure from UEFA, the Government will allow several thousand football VIPs to attend the Euro 2020 finals in Britain without having to quarantine. Meanwhile, ordinary Britons and other NVIPs (Not Very Important Persons) will still have to quarantine for 10 days if they arrive in the U.K. from amber list countries.

This absolutely flagrant double standard – one rule for thee and another for VIPs – has united everyone from David Davis to Caroline Lucas in condemnation of the Government. Davis said the decision was “morally inconsistent”, while Lucas called it “deep hypocrisy”.

How has the Government attempted to justify the decision? Well, as one source told The Telegraph, “It’s important to be able to host international events such as the Euros, and there will be strict mitigations for those attending in order to protect public health, similar to those used at the G7.” 

To be fair and reasonable to the Government’s position, this makes absolutely no sense. On 14th June it was announced that the full re-opening would be delayed by four weeks due to a supposedly alarming rise in cases. Here the Government’s top priority was keeping cases down, even if that meant cancelling weddings, concerts and other live performances.

Now the Government is saying, “It’s important to be able to host international events.” But why isn’t it important to be able to host weddings and concerts? I suspect some of these events even have had international guests (you know, people travelling from abroad to see their friends get married).

The Government’s position seems to be: it’s of course very important we don’t do anything that could risk another epidemic, unless that thing happens to be an “international event such as the Euros” in which case it’s of course very important that we host it. You’re keeping up, aren’t you?

But it gets better. The VIP exemption was negotiated by Dan Rosenfield, the PM’s chief of staff, who happens to be “an avid football fan”. So now policy is decided based on the hobbies of political appointees? “Sorry your concert’s been cancelled but our chief of staff doesn’t really listen to music.” 

How can the Government get away with simply making things up as it goes along? I guess it’s down to the lack of any real opposition. In the vote to extend lockdown, almost every Labour and “Liberal” Democrat MP again voted with the Government. And it’s hard to hold a party to account when there aren’t any other options.

Stop Press: Ross Clark has made a similar argument in the Sunday Express.

Are We Being Kept in Partial Lockdown by Status Quo Bias?

Status quo bias is when one prefers the current state of affairs simply because it is the current state of affairs. First described by the economists William Zechauser and Richard Zeckhauser, this particular cognitive bias has been documented in many scientific studies.

However, you’d hope that it wouldn’t affect decision-making over something as consequential as a national lockdown. Where the lockdown is concerned, you’d hope that rational judgement based on firm principles, or rigorous cost-benefit analysis, would prevail.

Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case, as the Tory peer Daniel Hannan argues in a piece for Conservative Home:

Would anyone, coming fresh to our current situation, propose a lockdown? The vulnerable have been shielded: around 95% of people over 50, along with healthcare and care home workers, have had what turns out to be a highly effective vaccine. The inoculation programme is now reaching healthy people in their early forties – people for whom, in most cases, the virus would manifest as a cold. As I write, the latest daily death count is six. Not six per million. Six.

Even if you believe a lockdown was necessary to “flatten the curve” (which, incidentally, it very likely wasn’t), the curve has now been thoroughly flattened. And with seasonality starting to kick-in, any remaining benefit of lockdowns is rapidly approaching zero. (Recall that every European country saw declining death numbers last May.)

Despite all this, some lockdown measures are still in place. Hannan continues:

The trouble is that lifting restrictions is an altogether tougher proposition than not imposing them in the first place. People tend to anchor to the status quo. Governments are reluctant to relinquish the powers they assumed on a supposedly contingent basis. Just as with post-war rationing, bureaucrats fear chaos if controls are lifted, and struggle to understand the (admittedly counter-intuitive) notion of spontaneous order. Freedoms, as always, need to be prised from the cold grip of the administrative state.

And as Hannan notes, the costs of the ongoing measures are far from trivial:

Well, for one thing, each of the next 19 days will cost us several hundred million pounds. Sums that would have horrified us a year ago have now become unremarkable; but they haven’t become any smaller. To say “just another couple of weeks” is much easier if you are a government official at home on full pay than if you are, say, a restaurateur or hotelier. Every day in lockdown is adding weeks to our recovery.

It’s time for the Government to acknowledge that the last four months have gone better than expected, and the remaining lockdown measures should be lifted immediately. Meanwhile, Hannan’s article is worth reading in full.