Even earlier than the UK’s Covid inquiry began hearings final month, it had already racked up a complete value of £114million. For those who thought that ought to be sufficient to purchase some rigorous authorized cross-examination into how precisely we had been led into one disastrous lockdown after one other, you’ll be sorely dissatisfied.

The primary hearings started on 13 June. To date witnesses have included chancellor Jeremy Hunt, chief medical officer (CMO) Chris Whitty, former well being minister Matt Hancock and former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon. A lot of them took the chance to grandstand and confronted little opposition whereas doing so. The one exception has been Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, chiding Nicola Sturgeon final week for blaming Scotland’s Covid travails on Brexit and on Westminster. ‘It is a witness field, not a soapbox’, he reminded her. Sadly, there have been many extra witnesses who deserved related therapy, however acquired off unscathed.

Let’s start with the British Medical Affiliation (BMA). Forward of former prime minister David Cameron giving proof on 19 June, the BMA launched an announcement. It blamed the deficiencies of the UK’s pandemic preparations on Cameron’s austerity insurance policies. That is hardly shocking, provided that the BMA’s reply to any drawback is ‘Give us extra money’.

However would extra money have actually made any distinction? Nations with better-funded well being techniques than the UK additionally determined that their hospitals couldn’t deal with the virus, and they also went into lockdown. The outlier was, after all, Sweden. Mockingly, Sweden has the fewest hospital beds and ICU beds per capita of wherever in Europe. And but, in contrast to the UK, it remained open. This reveals that it was not a scarcity of well being funding or hospital capability that led to a lockdown to ‘shield the NHS’. Quite, it was a panicked political determination.

Additionally talking on the inquiry in June was Jeremy Hunt, former well being secretary and now chancellor. Hunt claimed that we deliberate for the improper kind of pandemic – for influenza, quite than a coronavirus. Chris Whitty concurred. The inquiry didn’t problem this declare, however it ought to have.

The distinction between a coronavirus pandemic and an influenza pandemic shouldn’t be as nice as Hunt or Whitty are making out. Some coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2 and OC43 (nonetheless with us as a common-cold virus), are extremely transmissible however hardly ever deadly, and behave extra like influenza. For instance, the Omicron variant of Covid just lately unfold via China on the pace of the quickest influenza. Different coronaviruses – like SARS and MERS – are much less transmissible, however extra deadly.

In 2011, the Division of Well being revealed an Influenza Preparedness Technique that acknowledged these similarities. The report states: ‘A pandemic is probably to be brought on by a brand new subtype of the Influenza A virus, however the plans could possibly be tailored and deployed for situations corresponding to an outbreak of one other infectious illness.’ In brief, getting ready for the ‘improper’ pandemic is hardly an excuse for the authorities’ response to Covid.

Hunt additionally claimed that we might have suppressed Covid if solely we had adopted the lead of South Korea, which pursued a Zero Covid technique, primarily via the aggressive testing and isolation of Covid instances and their contacts. In fact, he made no point out of how Zero Covid turned to tyranny in Australasia. Melbourne was put in lockdown for 200 days and New Zealand’s abroad residents wanted to compete for quarantine lodge rooms in the event that they wished to return dwelling. Zero Covid additionally ended spectacularly badly in China.

The intrusiveness of South Korea’s testing insurance policies additionally must be spelled out. Following a Could 2020 outbreak linked to homosexual bars in Seoul, 41,620 checks had been carried out on nightclub guests and their contacts to determine 246 instances. This included contacts that had been 5 – 6 steps faraway from the unique instances. The Korean authorities ‘used a number of types of superior data expertise, together with location knowledge from cell gadgets, credit-card fee historical past, GPS knowledge… public-transportation transit-pass information, and CCTV’. Is that this the type of closely surveilled society our chancellor desires?

It’s not even clear that this authoritarian intrusion truly helped South Korea to suppress Covid. Japan additionally managed to maintain instances down, regardless of few restrictions and no oppressive surveillance.

Hunt isn’t the one one who has been baying for extra and more durable lockdowns. Former chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies made an identical level in her listening to. I do know and respect Davies and she or he was proper to emphasize that ‘Lockdown broken a technology’. But regardless of her issues she nonetheless defended the choice to lock down ‘the primary time’, and even advised we must always have completed so ‘every week earlier’.

How would which have helped? Evaluation by Johns Hopkins and Lund Universities means that the primary lockdown in spring 2020 saved simply 1,700 lives in England and Wales. That’s across the similar because the per-week tally of extra non-Covid deaths in the course of the current winter. An additional week in lockdown would have had solely a trivial impact. In the meantime, Czechia, which congratulated itself for apparently decreasing the first-wave toll with an early lockdown, went on to have one of many largest Covid waves within the winter of 2020-21. It now ranks ninth worldwide for per capita Covid deaths.

A couple of days after Davies gave proof, Chris Whitty, her successor as CMO, additionally spoke to the inquiry. Whitty claimed that planning for such an ‘terribly main social intervention’ as lockdown wouldn’t have occurred except a minister had requested it. However there’s a motive why no minister would have requested it. The scientific group had lengthy largely agreed that lockdowns had been an ineffective technique to deal with a possible pandemic. Beginning in 2006, the US authorities mentioned lockdown after a scare over avian flu. In addition they feared the potential of a bioterror assault. However lockdown was roundly debunked as a technique. Donald Henderson, who had led the profitable international smallpox-eradication programme, was a very notable critic of lockdowns. In 2006, he wrote:

There aren’t any historic observations or scientific research that assist the confinement by quarantine of teams of presumably contaminated folks for prolonged durations with the intention to sluggish the unfold of influenza… It’s tough to determine circumstances previously half-century when large-scale quarantine has been successfully used within the management of any illness. The unfavourable penalties… are so excessive… that this mitigation measure ought to be eradicated from severe consideration.

This explains why lockdown doesn’t characteristic within the Division of Well being’s 2011 plan, the WHO’s 2019 ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ plan or in Chris Whitty’s 2018 Gresham Faculty lecture on managing pandemics. Lockdown was rejected all over the world till it was adopted by China in 2020. Then, on the hoof, it was picked up by the panicked West. Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist and some-time authorities adviser, admitted as a lot to the The Occasions again in December 2020: ‘If China had not completed it, the yr would have been very totally different. It’s a communist one-party state… We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought. After which Italy did it. And we realised we might.’ So identical to that, with no risk-benefit evaluation, lockdown grew to become the primary technique of the UK authorities. The Covid inquiry witnesses are but to be challenged on this.

Per week after Whitty, it was Matt Hancock’s flip to face the inquiry. He opined that we must always have locked down sooner and more durable. And he additionally did so with out being challenged. Absolutely Hancock can’t imagine that an excellent harder lockdown was the reply. There may be now overwhelming proof that lockdowns took a wrecking ball to the economic system, schooling, psychological well being, civil liberties and the backlog-swamped NHS itself.

Time and again, these known as to present testimony have defended the choice to lock down. And time and again, they’ve asserted that the one mistake was to not have locked down earlier and more durable. These claims have to be challenged. However the inquiry is singularly failing to take action.

This brings us again as to whether the Division of Well being’s 2011 plan – very a lot ‘Preserve Calm and Carry On’ – was actually so unhealthy. Sweden acted in a broadly related manner. There have been restricted restrictions, however social life remained as regular as attainable. Regardless of low hospital and ICU mattress numbers, Sweden’s hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. Residents’ work ethic was not eroded. Youngsters’s schooling was not disrupted. GDP was diminished by lower than in different international locations. Sweden racked up debt of £3,000 per citizen versus £8,400 within the UK. And seen throughout your entire three-year pandemic, Sweden has across the fewest extra deaths in Europe.

Sweden additionally completed its personal Covid inquiry a yr in the past. There have been criticisms to be made, notably of care-home outbreaks, however in the end, the inquiry’s conclusion was optimistic. It discovered that a number of international locations that did impose lockdowns had ‘considerably worse outcomes’ than Sweden. In the meantime, it discovered that the restriction of civil liberties was ‘hardly defensible apart from within the face of very excessive threats’.

Sweden actually should function a counterpoint to the broad enthusiasm for lockdowns on show on the Covid inquiry. There’s little level holding an inquiry if nobody is keen to push again on the selections that had been made. There was no dialogue of the egregious infringement on our particular person freedoms. Nobody has requested whether or not lockdowns had been even efficient. To date, the Covid inquiry has proved an amazing waste of money and time. The reckoning we’d like with lockdown should come from elsewhere.

David Livermore is a retired professor of medical microbiology.