A look at the lack of critical commentary from the Left on how to reconcile the need for collective action with the importance of individual rights and freedoms in the response to Covid. According to the authors, it now seems obvious that the focused protection approach championed by the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) — based on “allow[ing] those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk” — was the right course of action.
Has the Left finally woken up to the devastating costs of implementing lockdowns? In its first edition of 2022, the Observer carried a surprisingly balanced interview with Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of Sage whose new book — The Year the World Went Mad — argues that long lockdowns promoted more harm than good and failed to protect the vulnerable. Its favourable reception appears to herald a new direction in the critique of Covid measures and policies on the Left; for the first time, the question of what really represented the collective good in the Covid debate has been put on the table by a mainstream left-liberal publication.
This is certainly a new departure. As we have previously noted on UnHerd, the Left has strongly supported restrictive measures in the fight against the pandemic.
It argued that these restrictions, which clearly infringe on individual freedoms and rights, were nonetheless justified in the name of “the collective good” and “the collective right to life”. This allowed them to pre-empt any criticism of the new Covid consensus: if you’re against any of these measures, you’re against the collective interest. And so thinkers like us, who have always criticised neoliberal individualism and argued in favour of progressive state intervention, suddenly found ourselves accused of being libertarians or outright “Right-wingers”, just for taking a critical stance of governments’ response to the pandemic.
As Piero Stanig and Gianmarco Daniele, two professors at Bocconi University, explain in their book Fallimento lockdown (“Lockdown Failure”), the worst possible thing you can do when dealing with a highly infectious disease that spreads almost exclusively indoors and targets the elderly is to lock old people up inside their homes with other family members, and ban citizens from spending time in arguably the safest place of all: outdoors. In other words, even from the narrow perspective of saving lives, not only were lockdowns not in the collective interest of society, they weren’t even in the interest of those whose lives were actually at risk.
Such an outcome was easily predictable. Indeed, the WHO’s 2019 report on pandemic preparedness states that the quarantine of exposed individuals — let alone of the entire population — “is not recommended because there is no obvious rationale for this measure”.
The grotesquery of the global responses becomes even more apparent when we take into account the fact that while governments went out of their way to keep healthy people locked in, chasing runners down solitary beaches or checking shopping trolleys to make sure people were only buying essentials, they all but abandoned those most vulnerable: nursing home residents. According to a recent Collateral Global study, Covid deaths in nursing homes amount on average to a staggering 40% of all Covid deaths in Western countries, despite representing less than 1% of the population. In some countries (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US), more than 5% of all care home residents were killed.