Thursday January 13, 2022
Being a purveyor of pessimism is one way to further your career. Predict doom and anything short of doom that happens after that is a blessing, a miracle. And you can be either a saviour or a genius – take your choice.
The UK government has consistently been served with worst-case Covid scenarios from modelling to justify ever more restrictive measures. For much of the pandemic, the government and its advisers have cited projections of cases and deaths, each more terrifying than the last, and a cycle of lockdowns and Eat Out to Help Out-style schemes has followed.
Ministers’ eagerness to understand what might happen next has led to an overreliance on these models. The messaging of fear has provided a rationale for inhumane measures – from solitary confinement to the abandonment of some of the most vulnerable in our society. It has also created unrealistic expectations for what interventions can do to lessen the burden of Covid.
Meanwhile, the negative impacts of such restrictive policies are vast, wide-ranging and should not be underestimated. They will be felt for generations to come, especially by the weakest members of our society.
Finally, however, it seems we have reached the stage where the models are being properly called into question. Despite the models predicting an enormous catastrophe from the Omicron variant, on 21 December 2021, prime minister Boris Johnson said: ‘We don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.’ Roughly translated, that means we were leaving the doomsday predictions behind. No new restrictions have been announced since then, either, and the prime minister has come as close as possible to saying there won’t be another lockdown.