Current Events

A leading scientist says the world went mad over Covid

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The dirt is coming out in the wash: Lockdowns did way more harm than good is the key point of a new book by a professor who advised the UK government on Covid.

Mark Woolhouse is professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, SAGE adviser, and now the author of ‘The Year the World Went Mad’, a personal, insider’s view of how the Covid pandemic played out. The book is a very useful review of what happened, even for those who followed events closely. The story is one of constant lurches from complacency to panic, optimism to pessimism, and back again. 

As he eloquently puts it, ‘I did not expect that elementary principles of epidemiology would be misunderstood and ignored, that tried-and-trusted approaches to public health would be pushed aside, that so many scientists would abandon their objectivity, or that plain common sense will be a casualty of the crisis. Yet as I’ve explained, these things did happen, and we have all seen the result. I didn’t expect the world to go mad. But it did.’

Woolhouse argues that the UK’s four governments, and the scientists who have advised them throughout, made a mess of the response, leaving us with a legacy of huge state debts, bankrupt businesses, grieving family members, and liberties undermined. Lockdown, he argues, was a declaration of failure. It was a failure that was perhaps understandable in the circumstances of March 2020, but one that should never have been repeated. 

Woolhouse is much less forgiving about the subsequent lockdowns, believing that the damage done was always going to be enormous, on the economy, freedoms, education, mental health, and more. There had to be a better way. 

He starts with the observation that Covid discriminates. Children and younger adults who are otherwise in good health rarely suffer severe disease, let alone die from it. The risk of death is much, much greater in those over 70 years of age or who have some other reason to be vulnerable, such as those whose immune system is suppressed by cancer treatment. The QCOVID study by researchers at Oxford University found that 91% of deaths occurred in just 15% of the population. 


Woolhouse’s book lands some important blows on the failings of government and scientific advice. Covid must lead to a shake-up in how we prepare for such events in the future. Whether his cocooning strategy would have succeeded as an alternative to lockdown is another matter, but given the damage done by lockdowns, it warrants serious consideration and planning. Source

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