EU Elites Are at Last Waking Up to Their Lockdown Folly

Not that they'll ever take responsibility for the insanely extensive, and utterly unnecessary, fallout

Did you hear it? Beyond the second wave sirens and the schools debate, the sound of the penny dropping on the global stage. In recent days, world leaders have hinted at an extraordinary admission: lockdowns are a disaster, and we can’t afford to repeat the mistake.

Still, when that spiritless reverend of the global order Angela Merkel delivered this confession a few days ago, she was so officiously ambiguous that the world paid no attention. “Politically, we want to avoid closing borders again at any cost, but that assumes that we act in coordination,” she droned at a summit in the Mediterranean. And with that, an earthquake: saving lives “at any cost” has been excised from the lexicon of liberal internationalism. Instead, the aim is to save the economy. This means “acting in coordination” to kill off second lockdowns.

Emmanuel Macron was the first leader to drop this little bombshell. Last week he said that France can’t cope with the “collateral damage” of a second lockdown, explaining that “zero risk never exists in any society”.

Italy joined in three days later, with the health minister hinting that the country will not return to national hibernation.

Meanwhile, after lauding China’s draconian lockdown, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is imploring countries to avoid battening down the hatches again.

About time. Lockdowns are officially indefensible. Sweden has won the international experiment, as its firms outperform even the German Großunternehmen while Covid deaths plummet in line with the rest of Europe. Scientists caution that it may take years to develop a vaccine. Economists warn that even the richest economies in the world cannot afford national lockdowns costing up to 3 per cent of GDP per month.

Perhaps even doom-mongering politicians have twigged that civilisation threatens to evaporate into a mushroom cloud of psychoneurotic delirium. Polling reveals that Westerners on average believe 6 per cent of their national populations have died from Covid-19. The real figure is around 100 times lower.

Or maybe global leaders have been terrified by their instinct to protect the status quo. After all, seasonal travel shutdowns are an existential threat to a borderless Europe. Italy’s collapse following another lockdown would bankrupt the Eurozone. The banal rituals of cosmopolitanism are under threat – from the professional class’s daily pilgrimage into the cities to Starbucks lattes in reusable cups.

The trouble is, if Britain is any guide, leaders will struggle to persuade the masses to keep calm and carry on. Risk-averse statesmen [“statesmen”] aren’t ideal poster children for the message that we must all learn to live with more risk.

More importantly, no leader dare tackle the toxic relationship between mass panic and “the science”. Take the problem of dodgy Covid statistics. The bizarre failure of politicians to explain to people the basic fact that “rising” cases could partly reflect an increase in testing is a scandal. So is their inability to point out that, far from being cause for alarm, mild upticks may be an encouraging sign that testing and tracing is working, as the system becomes more effective at picking up localised spikes.

Nor do governments have a handle on the spurious second wave modelling that could yet drive us into another lockdown. It is, however, a myth that politicians are helpless against the judgment of career scientists. In Britain and beyond, politicians have never followed the modelling; modelling has always followed the politicians.

As the pandemic hit, officials across the world requested forecasts for long-term worst-case scenarios, even though it is widely held in expert circles that statistical models are only accurate for roughly two-week stretches. Worse, part of the reason the science has come up with ridiculous solutions is that politicians have asked ridiculous questions.

As government adviser Prof Mark Woolhouse recently told a parliamentary committee:“We are not aiming the models at the right target; we are aiming them at everyone when in fact the burden of this disease is very concentrated.” Perhaps the number crunchers would do better to model social distancing measures directed at the vulnerable rather than population-wide lockdowns.

Sadly, world leaders are less interested in taking the science debate forward than in covering their backs. Their expediency will only fuel paranoia. After an intriguing U-turn from the WHO, face masks are being rolled out as a mass market placebo from Britain to Spain.

The notion that they reassure more people than they alarm – let alone the evidence that they work – is risible. Still, they usefully distract from the incompetence of Western states when it comes to the routine mass testing that could genuinely quiet hysteria and avert new lockdowns.

And so the Covid saga rumbles on. A grim tale of Machiavellian idiocy, statistical illiteracy, and robotic leaders who have no idea how to level with voters. Still, at least they have realised their lockdown error. It’s a glimmer of hope to which we must cling.

Source: The Telegraph

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