The first meeting of the Newcastle PiPs group discussed the UK Government’s response to the Covid pandemic.
The first meeting of the Newcastle Politics in Pubs group, held on the 14th March 2023, dealt with a topic which has had huge and far-reaching impacts on all our lives: the UK Government’s response to the Covid pandemic.
The introductory talk was given by Dr Martin Evison, a forensic pathologist with extensive professional experience in the life sciences and forensic science, and an interesting personal story of lockdown.
Martin began by saying that the Government’s initial response to the pandemic followed existing national and international guidelines, such as hand washing, social distancing and isolating when sick. The messaging at that time was sensible and non-alarmist: Professors Whitty and Vallance reassured the public that most people were not at risk from death or serious illness and would experience only mild symptoms. They also said that masks would do more harm than good.
Then, on the 23rd March, everything changed. The Government abandoned its published pandemic response plan and adopted the unprecedented measure of forcing healthy people into lockdown. At the time, Professor Neil Ferguson said of China’s lockdown: “It’s a communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… and then Italy did it. And we realised we could.”
As more and more countries realised they could ‘get away with’ enforcing these draconian measures, Martin escaped to the one Western European country which was indeed following the science: Sweden. What he saw there corroborated his view that the UK Government should not have deviated from scientific method and the principles of public health ethics.
Martin explained the poor quality of the Imperial College models and the shortcomings of the highly sensitive PCR tests that that were used to justify initiating and maintaining lockdown in the UK. He described how mortality rates were inflated by assigning deaths within 28 days of a positive test as ‘Covid deaths’ without the need for an autopsy. Martin went on to criticize the mainstream media, who sent political reporters rather than science journalists to government briefings. Their complicity ensured that the fear-mongering narrative was never challenged and that anyone who raised concerns about the likely impacts of lockdown was vilified.
The topic was then opened up for discussion chaired by Dr Caspar Hewitt, lecturer in engineering at Newcastle University and Director of The Great Debate.
With the recent release of the leaked WhatsApp messages known as the Lockdown Files fresh in our minds, everyone had plenty to say. The Lockdown Files clearly demonstrated Martin’s point – that far from ‘following the science’, key decisions were made on a whim for political, or even personal, reasons.
Why did this happen?
The group agreed with Martin that media complicity, vested interests and the shallowness of career politicians and civil servants obsessed with the next news cycle all played a part. The absence of opposition from the Labour party was also raised as an important factor, as was competition between the SNP and Westminster, for example over the introduction of face masks in schools.
Members also commented that the middle classes often weren’t too badly affected by lockdown – paid to stay at home in nice houses, spending more family time and getting everything delivered. If everyone had suffered the same devastating impacts, there might have been more pushback.
The group also felt that if the pandemic had struck 20 years earlier, before today’s technological and logistic advances, it is highly likely we would have carried on as normal and emerged the better for it.
The question was raised as to why some people seemingly had ‘herd immunity’ to the prevailing narrative of fear. No one had a good answer for this, but all were grateful to the few who, like Martin, spoke out to challenge the Government’s response.
Could it happen again?
Concerns were raised about the proposal for a pandemic treaty which could give the World Health Organization the power to impose lockdown measures in the UK. Participants felt that we didn’t leave the EU just to have decisions made for us by another unelected, unaccountable, supranational organization.
Some members of the group felt that tactics deployed during the pandemic are already being applied in other areas, notably the over-use of worst-case scenario models, the ‘campaign of fear’ messaging and stifling of debate on the topic of climate change. Another example cited was the un-democratic introduction of traffic restrictions, such as ULEZ, LTNs and 15-minute cities, with no consultation, cost-benefit analysis or thought for the wider impacts. This was then adopted as a topic for the PiPs Newcastle meeting on 6th June.
Find out more
The issues raised in Martin’s introductory talk are covered in detail in the article he co-authored for the Daily Sceptic: https://dailysceptic.org/2021/03/05/follow-the-politics-not-the-science/