Jay Bhattacharya talks with Aadi Golchha about omicron, the dystopian notion of Zero Covid, and other Covid-related matters. Noah Carl interviews Phil Magness. A slice: You work for the American Institute for Economic Research, which hosted the conference that led to the Great Barrington Declaration – a public statement advocating focused protection. Could you tell us what happened at that conference? In early October 2020, AIER hosted a small academic conference for the purpose of calling scientific attention to the costs of lockdowns. Up until that point, the media and political figures such as Anthony Fauci had been working to create a false impression of strong scientific consensus behind the lockdown measures – even as they were failing to perform as promised (recall “two weeks
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Noah Carl interviews Phil Magness. A slice:
You work for the American Institute for Economic Research, which hosted the conference that led to the Great Barrington Declaration – a public statement advocating focused protection. Could you tell us what happened at that conference?
In early October 2020, AIER hosted a small academic conference for the purpose of calling scientific attention to the costs of lockdowns. Up until that point, the media and political figures such as Anthony Fauci had been working to create a false impression of strong scientific consensus behind the lockdown measures – even as they were failing to perform as promised (recall “two weeks to flatten the curve”). This new consensus was an outright falsehood. As recently as 2019, the WHO, leading epidemiology research institutions such as Johns-Hopkins University, and even Fauci himself had gone on record stating that lockdowns would not work in a respiratory pandemic, and should be ruled out as a policy response.
The conference would call attention to the largely ignored harms of lockdowns, while proposing alternative approaches that were in keeping with the pre-2020 public health science. We hosted three eminently qualified scientists from top research institutions, who presented the case against lockdowns in a filmed discussion panel. This was followed by interviews with journalists who specialize in pandemic coverage. On the last day of the conference, the three scientists then drafted a general statement of principles that (1) summarized the case against lockdowns and (2) called for an alternative “focused protection” strategy. They dubbed this the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), and released it publicly the next morning.
Also from Noah Carl is this assessment of lockdowns. Two slices:
Aside from its effects on health, education and the economy, lockdown represents the greatest infringement on civil liberties in modern history. Here and elsewhere, the state used its monopoly on force to outlaw some of the most basic human interactions, such as having a meal with friends.
Suppose at the start of 2020, the [British] government had said, “In order to prevent mortality falling to the level of Scotland, we’re going to undertake the greatest infringement on civil liberties in modern history. Thanks to our measures, it will only fall to the level of Wales instead.” I suspect that public support for lockdown would have been much lower.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Kontorovich – one of my many excellent GMU colleagues over in the Scalia School of Law – argues that some of Biden’s proposed restrictions on travel are unconstitutional as well as an affront to the norms of a free society. A slice:
A quarantine isn’t a banishment, but it can become one. Early in the pandemic, Australia imposed rigid entry requirements on citizens—a mandatory two-week quarantine and a tight limit on total arrivals. Many Australians were stranded outside their country for months. Such a situation is no longer a dystopian fantasy for Western countries, so it’s important to draw constitutional lines early.
A suspicionless quarantine requirement, especially as applied to citizens, erodes basic rights. The government could take many lesser steps, from limiting flights from high-risk places to imposing rigid testing requirements. But a universal quarantine is unreasonable. It would burden even vaccinated citizens coming from places with less infection than the U.S.
Restricting citizens’ ability to travel is a hallmark of a police state. Infectious disease will always be with us. It cannot become an excuse to give the federal government carte blanche to control the lives of citizens.
Wall Street Journal reporter Adam O’Neal applauds the refusal of Isabel Díaz Ayuso – president of the Community of Madrid – to succumb to the Covid hysteria that still terrorizes much of Europe. A slice:
She says Madrid got back on its feet “around the values of freedom, of prosperity. It has been an example. In fact, the May 4 elections are an example for a lot of countries.” Covid-19 devastated the Spanish capital, but several regions have faced more deaths per capita. Critically, the results suggest voters understand that a locked-down economy has public-health implications as well.
“I believe in freedom in all aspects of life. And against everything that tyrannizes and enslaves the person—against addictions, against the identity division between man-woman, left-right, rich-poor. That is what the communist ideology often does, always seeking to collectivize the person and control them from above,” she says. “Responsibility and freedom is what I think there has to be.”
But at least the source of these children’s suffering and dying isn’t Covid-19 – and as we have learned since early last year, the overriding goal in life, a goal that trumps all others, is to avoid exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
This overreach has dangerous political implications. “This Court perceives great mischief in allowing a municipality or one of its agencies to exceed its power, even for compelling reasons,” Justice Bagdoian wrote. “In this Court’s view, such expansion of power by a governmental agency, even for compelling reasons, should be unthinkable in a democratic system of governance.”
But that’s the pandemic world we now live in. Boston’s new mayor, Michelle Wu, said Monday the city “will seek a stay of the decision to keep the eviction moratorium in place.” Some politicians love the power the pandemic has provided and won’t give it up easily, which means courts must check their abuses.
What a shock: the coronavirus has spun off another variant. Battle stations, everyone. The PM warns that Omicron — evocative of an Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller more than a Bill Murray romcom — ‘can be spread between people who are double vaccinated’, which could seem alarming, save for the fact that the vaccinated communicate all the other variants, too. Omicron ‘might’ evade the protection of vaccines; then again, our planet ‘might’ be blitzed to smithereens by an asteroid tomorrow. Besides, the logic is a bit warped, isn’t it? Our weary public-health superheroes don’t trust the vaccines to protect against this terrifying new kryptonite. Restored restrictions are therefore meant to ‘buy time’ to administer even more of the very vaccines they’ve little faith in.
Regarding the variant’s transmissibility or virulence, our overlords have virtually no information, which hasn’t stopped them from acting on it. (South African doctors’ reports of Omicron’s unusually mild symptoms — fatigue and headache — seem to have made no impression.) Here we go again. Yet another ‘variant of concern’. Yet another return of restrictions. Yet another promise to ‘review’ these impositions in three weeks, which if history serves will mean increasing restrictions in three weeks and maintaining them almost indefinitely. Yet another promise that Christmas is safe, and nothing makes my heart sink like this administration’s reassurances. Yet another collective call from journalists in the audience for still more oppressive measures — for vaccine passports, renewed hospitality check-ins and working from home: You’re sorely remiss, sir, for not making life crap enough! Yet another synchronous plummet in international stock markets, from fear not of the variant itself, but of governmental overreaction to the variant.
For containing the spread of Sars-CoV-2, non-pharmaceutical interventions do not work. This point risks becoming tiresome, but given the near-universal failure to digest the lesson, it’s worth reiterating: all over the world, you would struggle to find correlation between the severity of government restrictions and Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Countries and American states with mask mandates have averaged no lower rates of infection than those without. Even vaccines don’t stop the spread of the virus. Some of the world’s most highly vaccinated populations — in Iceland, in Gibraltar — are now having some of the worst outbreaks.
I’m not the only one who’s been wondering for months: how will we ever get out of this terrible movie? Ours is an anthropocentric era, prone to presentism. We like to think our time is exceptional, and we like to think we control everything (like the climate, but we won’t get into that now). Yet humanity has suffered pandemics before. Globally, we may only escape these repeated hysterias over ‘fifth waves’, if not ‘85th waves’, the old-fashioned way: loads of people get infected and recover and acquire natural immunity. It’s not fancy, but that’s how we’ve weathered pandemics of respiratory viruses before. Despite the feeble efforts of America’s Centers for Disease Control to claim otherwise, natural immunity to Covid is proving at least as robust as vaccine-induced immunity and appears longer lasting. But natural immunity seems to annoy public health authorities, because it isn’t within their control, and they can’t take credit for it.
It is not just for politicians that there is an upside from the omicron-induced shift in the national agenda. It suits big companies and incompetent managers who made the most of Covid to downgrade their customer service. They used to blame Brexit; now they blame omicron. It is convenient for disruptive trade unions and lazy employees on the look-out for an excuse to work less. It will embolden some to seek a hugely extended festive period working from home, regardless of the needs of employers or the extra burden imposed on colleagues. It suits the public sector, and its determination to put the interests of producers above those of consumers. Shut schools and cancelled nativity plays are a hideous, immoral blow to children, but are grist to militant unions’ mill.
The arrival of booster jabs makes the idea of compulsion harder still: if top-ups are needed every three to six months, how will this affect vaccine passports? Will people have to receive every top-up for the ongoing right to enjoy their liberty? Otto Schily, a minister in Gerhard Schröder’s government, yesterday pointed out that even Communist China isn’t considering mandatory vaccines. So where, he asked, will Merkel’s idea lead? Will Mr Scholz now yield to the activist lawyers advocating prison sentences for vaccine refuseniks?
The politics of all this is just as divisive in Italy, now in its 19th consecutive week of anti-restriction protests. Next week, it will bring in a “super green pass” where a negative test is no longer enough. Austria will start issuing fines for the unvaccinated from February, as Greece will do next month (but only for pensioners). Even Sweden, having defied the world for so long by rejecting mask-wearing and lockdowns, has now succumbed to vaccine passports. Britain is starting to look like the new Sweden: keeping calm and carrying on.
The pandemic has rained manna for nudgers. Across the high-income world, we now see a form of hygiene authoritarianism, promoted and enforced by nudgers in government and media. This goes beyond debunking clearly unhinged and unsupported claims. It also includes purging anyone opposed to particular government Covid policies, including recognised professionals. The most egregious example was the cancelling and marginalisation of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, written by leading epidemiologists from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford – all for the ‘thoughtcrime’ of opposing lockdowns.
Much the same can be said about the discussion of the pandemic’s origins, notes Jonathan Chait, a left-of-centre writer for New York magazine. For months anyone mentioning the possibility that Covid escaped from a Chinese lab was denounced as racist and sent to the digital gulag. Only recently, as the case for it became credible, has the lab-leak theory been deemed acceptable.
But reversing positions does not bother the nudgers, who, like apparatchiks under Stalin or bishops of the medieval church, follow each shift of policy assiduously. This has led to a dizzying confusion as health officials switch official positions on the duration and severity of the disease, and on the usefulness of masks, while their projections on infections, deaths and hospitalisations have often been too high. Anyone who dares to dissent, for example, from the views of US chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci is cast as an antediluvian ignoramus. ‘They’re really criticising science because I represent science’, Fauci said recently of those questioning him. ‘That’s dangerous.’
With lockdowns and mandates, the professional class is attacking workers and poor countries, and most professionals are not even smart enough to realize it.