The Daily Telegraph

Our cure was worse than Covid – but I fear an honest interrogat­ion of failures will not happen

- By Esther Mcvey

Who could have guessed that Matt Hancock’s Whatsapp messages would be so revealing and painful? The Lockdown Files have laid bare the extent to which ministers, civil servants and scientists were allowing political machinatio­ns rather than the scientific evidence to drive the catastroph­ic moves to inflict lockdowns, masks and more on the nation. My hope now, as co-chair of the all-party parliament­ary group on Pandemic Response and Recovery, is that these revelation­s will prompt the kind of robust debate on Covid policies that we should have had in 2020-21.

One would hope that the official Covid inquiry would provide a platform for that discussion. It has a unique opportunit­y to hold decisionma­kers to account, not just for errors that may have resulted in more Covid deaths, but also for errors which have resulted in vast numbers of excess deaths from all sorts of diseases since the lockdowns.

But I fear that interrogat­ion may not happen. There is a major risk that we will end up with an inquiry that focuses disproport­ionately on small details, such as whether a lockdown should have happened a week earlier, rather than the untold damage done to the nation from the best part of two years of restrictio­ns. This, ironically, would be to mirror the mistakes of lockdown ministers, who also focused so much on the virus itself that they failed to notice the impact broadsweep government policies were having on society as a whole. The failure to consider non-clinical factors such as education, non-covid healthcare and the economy was especially unfair to younger generation­s, who will be paying the price of this folly for years to come. The Covid inquiry should ask politician­s to explain their decisions to the young first.

Along with other MPS and peers, I have already urged Baroness Hallett, chair of the inquiry, to consider a wider range of voices, in order to avoid it being a whitewash. The inquiry needs to go beyond the direct costs of the disease itself and quantify the losses from the unintended but very real damage that Covid policy has done. It also needs to ask perhaps the least convenient question of all: should we have stuck to the original pandemic plan, which didn’t advocate mass lockdowns?

Indeed I still haven’t heard a good answer to the question of why the UK pandemic strategy 2011, which was revised in 2014, was seemingly discarded. Lockdowns were never part of those plans or those of 27 other European countries, all of which were published by the European Centre for Disease Control on Feb 5 2020. Sweden had the courage to stick to the plan and not only are their mortality rates substantia­lly better than ours, but they avoided some of the collateral damage of lockdowns.

Moreover, we must not forget that the severity of the disease ended up being much lower than our politician­s had made out. Michael Gove told us in March 2020 that “we are all at risk”, but as Prof Mark Woolhouse points out we knew that the virus was “highly discrimina­tory” as early as February 2020, with age and co-morbiditie­s being the crucial factors. This amounted to the weaponisat­ion of public health messaging, which as leading expert on emergency and recovery planning, Prof Lucy Easthope, says, “goes against everything we know about risk communicat­ions, making recovery that much harder.” It should be another matter for the inquiry.

The inquiry might also wish to ask, in light of the revelation­s in the Lockdown Files, why it seems that the system of government can be manipulate­d by a couple of overzealou­s ministers or officials. And it should analyse how much was done just for the sake of appearing to do something, leading to many unnecessar­y restrictio­ns. These are not easy matters, but they made a great deal of difference when it mattered.

As one of only a handful of Tory MPS who has consistent­ly spoken against and voted against Covid restrictio­ns, it has been quite obvious to me that our cure has been worse than the disease.

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