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Scathing book says UK experts ‘misled with alarming COVID models'

In a damning verdict of thAT country’s pandemic response, a UK government adviser writes in a new book that  scientists abandoned their objectivity, “misled” with alarming models, and failed to appreciate the damage lockdown would cause.

In his book The Year the World Went Mad, Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said that the governmentʼs advisory system was dominated by clinicians and public health specialists who “werenʼt looking at the bigger picture”.

Woolhouse claimed that lockdowns “had surprisingly little effect” and just “deferred the problem to another day, at great cost”, writes The Telegraph in a review of the book

He wrote that Spi-M was set up to tackle the wrong disease – influenza – and that early models were based on flu dynamics, and so mistakenly thought schools were a major driver while under-representing the impact of shielding.

Woolhouse says he was “extremely sceptical” about the Imperial College London report from 16 March 2020 that claimed more than 500,000 people could die without intervention, but at the time, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.

The figures, published a week before lockdown was announced, led to an about-turn from the government.

Scepticism over figures leading to first lockdown

Woolhouse claimed that lockdowns “had surprisingly little effect”.

“It was perfectly obvious that no one could predict the course of the epidemic over such a long timescale, so what was the point of publishing those outputs?” he wrote.

“The worst-case epidemic is one in which the virus is allowed to spread in the absence of any countermeasures at all. Itʼs useful to know how big that epidemic would be, but it would never happen in practice. It is inconceivable that we would carry on as normal while hundreds of thousands of people were dying.”

Imperial College London published an analysis the following June, claiming that lockdown had saved nearly half a million lives in Britain, reports The Telegraph. However, Sweden managed to bring its epidemic under control without lockdown, leaving Imperial College to conclude that it was Swedenʼs ban on mass gatherings that played the decisive role – even while arguing it had not been enough in other countries.

“The conclusion wasnʼt remotely plausible,” wrote Woolhouse. “Analyses by other researchers came up with quite different conclusions that the UK epidemic was already in decline before lockdown took effect.

“I expect this debate will rumble on for years, but I doubt anyone would claim now that the 23 March lockdown saved anywhere near half a million lives. Anyone who supported lockdown on the basis of the half-million figure was misled.”

An inquiry into the pandemic response is due to begin this spring. However, research is increasingly suggesting that lockdown was not needed because the public naturally begins social distancing when they see cases rise, or friends and family becoming infected.

This week, modellers told the Commons science and technology select committee that many of the recent models were wrong because they had failed to factor in these behavioural shifts.

Prof Graham Medley, the chairman of Spi-M, told MPs: “Human behaviour is very difficult to predict. If you could do it, then you would make a fortune on the stock exchange. We havenʼt included that, and maybe thatʼs an error. But on the other hand, weʼve seen dramatic behaviour changes which were completely unforeseen.”

Spi-M first met in Jan 2020, and modelling from the group was frequently cited by politicians to justify imposing new measures.

Yet in his book, Woolhouse said that scientific advisers had given too much weight to preventing deaths from coronavirus, while dismissing the indirect harms of lockdown, such as damage to education, mental health, the economy and the rest of the NHS.

He said that Britain would probably be paying for the mistakes of lockdown “for a generation or more”.

“The public health benefits were overestimated, skewing the argument in favour of that course, however damaging it was,” he added.

“Will the cure turn out to be worse than the disease? It is still early days for doing the reckoning but the moments are not good.”

Woolhouse also accused the BBC of over-egging the risks from COVID and that said scientists had abandoned their objectivity by wading into policy, reports The Telegraph.

“It became routine during the pandemic for scientific advisers and commentators to push for one policy or another,” he wrote.

“As citizens, they have every right to do that. But when there is a constant stream of government scientific advisers in the media calling for a lockdown, as there was during the second wave in October 2020, then we have crossed a line.”

The author said it was an “awkward” truth that the people who benefited most from suppression of the virus, such as the elderly and vulnerable, were not the group that suffered most from the impact of lockdown: young people and low-income workers.

“Even before the UK first went into lockdown in March 2020, we knew that novel coronavirus was far more dangerous to the elderly, the frail and the infirm than to healthy young adults and children,” he added.

“That should have shaped our response. Instead, the UK administrations continued to act as though everyone was equally at risk. They even actively promoted this misinterpretation to try to bolster acceptance to a lockdown strategy.”


The Telegraph article – Britain’s COVID experts ‘abandoned their objectivity and misled with alarming models’ (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


UK got it wrong on COVID: Long lockdown did more harm than good


Science under attack in UK for ‘apocalyptic’ COVID-19 claims


The cost of lockdown: Britain records 70,000 non-COVID ’extra deaths’



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