November 13, 2022 from Brownstone Institute

Writing in The Atlantic on October 31, Brown University economist Emily Oster penned a pre-emptive plea for amnesty for Covid-policy hardliners. Why? Because they were all well-intentioned and their pronouncements rested on benign ignorance. 

Judging by the numerous responses in print and social media and online commentary, the viral article lit the fuse on widespread, simmering but still raw anger. To many it suggests the lockdown zealots are incapable of introspection, of accepting culpability. Instead, they just want to move on to the next excuse to unleash blanket authoritarian control all over again.

Jessica Hockett has coined the word “Osterism” to describe the attitude of forgive, forget and move on from earlier finger-wagging, abusive and vile taunts because we didn’t know but meant well. Abracadabra. Puff! it’s all gone. ‘Twas but a bad dream, time to wake up and get going for the day’s activities.

Sorry, but the whole Covid debacle needs to be turned instead into a parable with a moral for the ages, to show how easy it is for a civilized society to be terrorized into believing blatant falsehoods and turn on one another with shocking savagery.

Covid Malpractices Were a Moral Failing

“Getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing.” Oh, but it was, professor, and your lot owns it. In fact, considering sheer numbers, the society-wide breadth of enforcement measures, the depth of state intrusion into personal choices and economic activities, the magnitude of unethical edicts and practices, and the worldwide scope of the policies: this could well be the single biggest moral failing in the history of modern Western civilization.

Oster, who endorsed vaccine mandates for universities and workers, says that in 2020–21, people couldn’t have known that transmission is rare outdoors, masks are not very good at blocking viruses and kids are a low-risk group for viral spread. Except these were mostly the conventional wisdom and departures from them was evidence-free radical experimentation. All those who pointed out these inconvenient facts were hounded from the public square by the baying mob that now wants to erase recent history.

Uh-uh, not so fast. Those responsible for our health and welfare chose to terrorize and harm us instead. There can be no closure until they’ve paid a price. Urging amnesty without admitting to wrongdoing is yet more gaslighting. When she noticed the harm that school closures were causing to her kids, Oster repositioned herself as a school moderate and tugged at our sympathy chords because she was called a “teacher killer” and a “génocidaire.” But is this really equivalent to “getting your head kicked in by riot police because you had the temerity to protest against indefinite population-wide house arrest?” asks Eugyppius.

Emily Burns speculates that Oster’s primary motivation might have been to stop the bleeding of votes from Democrats in the midterms among educated suburban women who were infuriated by school closures and being called terrorists for wanting to influence school curricula. 

A Wall Street Journal poll on November 2 indicated a 27-point shift since August to put support for Republicans ahead by 15 per cent among suburban white women who make up one-fifth of the electorate. No deal, says Burns. 

The midterm results did not quite work out quite as predicted for the Republicans. Nevertheless, Governor Ron DeSantis’s resounding victory is surely a vindication of his hardline skepticism on lockdowns and pro-choice policy on vaccines. Florida has emerged as the state where not just woke, but also lockdown and vaccine dogma go to die.

Age-Stratified Covid Risks Were Exaggerated and Lockdown Harms Downplayed

Check out this list of resources from Brownstone Institute of just how much we knew already in early 2020. Spectator Australia has gained a worldwide reputation for the skepticism expressed right from the start by several authors. As early as May 7, 2020, a mainstream outlet like the BBC published a chart showing the risk of dying with Covid closely tracking the “normal” distribution of death rates stratified by age.

In a recent review of several studies, John Ioannidis and colleagues conclude that the age-stratified survival rate of healthy under 70s infected by Covid-19 before vaccines became available is a staggering 99.905 per cent, and furthermore, under 70s make up 94 per cent of the world’s population or about 7.3bn people. For children and adolescents under 20, the survival rate is 99.9997 per cent. 

Experts from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine used subsequent actual data to back-calculate a survival rate of 99.9992 per cent for under-20s in Britain. Official data from the Office for National Statistics for 1990–2020 show that the age-standardized mortality rate (deaths per 100,000 people) in England and Wales in 2020 was lower in 19 of the previous 30 years. Remember, this is before vaccines.

The doomsday model from Imperial College London’s Neil Ferguson in March 2020 that precipitated lockdowns estimated the survival rate to be twenty times lower. 

Given his past record, why did anyone in authority give Colonel Chicken Little a platform to propagate “The sky is falling” yet again? Because of the criminal advice of health officials and decisions by relevant authorities, kids were masked for hours, vaccinated and deschooled. Forgive and forget the harms done to our precious children? Not in my name, thank you very much.

Early in the pandemic, reputable organizations warned about the extensive range and scale of harms. Members of the “we meant well and did the best we could under uniquely difficult circumstances” brigade have memory-holed what was known, thrown a cloak over the reliable data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, ignored the taunts of mass murderers and granny killers that were hurled at nonconforming governments like Sweden and Florida, are studiously silent about their embarrassing embrace of the extremely dubious claims from China, and are in complete denial on their shrill denunciation of skeptical voices and the vicious, largely successful efforts to censor, humiliate and fire them. This included highly accomplished doctors and research scientists, as detailed in a recent article in Minerva by one Australian and four Israeli authors.

Would amnesty seekers like to go back in time, do some research on the skepticism expressed right from the early days, and then tell us again: which major ineffectual and harmful lockdown consequence was not predicted?

Are We There Yet? Not Quite

The policies are not all behind us. Many are ongoing. Several universities still require booster shots as a condition of campus or in-person classroom entry. People continue to suffer serious vaccine reactions that are studiously ignored by drug regulators. 

There’s no guarantee the whole sorry saga will not be repeated. To the contrary, there are indications that next time round, governments will move straight into the tried and tested measures knowing just how easy it is to manipulate public support for the most draconian edicts and enforcement actions.

For example, on September 2, the European Commission published a plan to prepare for the return of Covid over the coming autumn and winter. The suite of measures—sorry, “set of tools”—include mask mandates, vaccination for school children, an EU Digital Covid Certificate, lockdowns, and the creation of a legally binding global pandemic treaty with a “reinforced WHO at its centre” in a strengthened “global health architecture” (p. 14). 

The tactics developed during Covid to psychologically manipulate people’s beliefs and coerce compliance with policy diktats are already being used by some governments, says Stephen McMurray, for the climate alarmism narrative.

Vaccine zealots like a columnist with the Australian persevere with their campaign of abuse and vilification toward Covid vaccine hesitants as “anti-vaxxers.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times in January this year, Michael Hiltzik argued that it may be “a little ghoulish to celebrate or exult in the deaths of vaccine opponents,” who received “their just desserts,” but it is necessary to teach them the much-needed lesson that vaccines severely reduce hospitalization, mortality and infection spread.

Tell us again why he deserves an amnesty? Instead, how about, as the lockdown bill comes due with major cost of living pressures and inevitable tax rises, we impose a specific levy on all those who clamored for restrictions, closures and mandates?

In country after country, including Australia, cumulative excess deaths in the 2020–22 Covid era are running above pre-Covid averages. As the MSM slowly begins to report on this phenomenon, it’s starting to raise the possibility that the measures to control Covid may indeed be causing more deaths than were saved, especially in the less vulnerable younger age groups. 

But they still shy away from questioning the possible role of vaccines themselves in contributing to the elevated death toll. Lockdowns caused cascading economic disasters around the world and substantial economic damage has lasting and severe adverse consequences for public health. 

Policy advisers and governments were willfully blind to the reality that national wealth is an essential enabler of a first-world health infrastructure and services. They covered up their cussedness by vilifying lockdown critics as wanting to prioritize the economy over lives.

No rational public health harm-benefit analysis could justify the lockdown restrictions and mandatory mask and vaccine requirements. Not before 2020, not in 2020–22, not now. Rooted neither in science nor data but in smug self-righteous groupthink and assumptions-driven abstract modeling, the set of coercive restrictions and mandates made a metaphorical bonfire of hard-won and cherished liberties and freedoms. 

All the institutions designed to check arbitrary abuses of power failed us miserably, from parliament and the judiciary to human rights machinery, media and professional associations.

The precautionary principle was flipped to enact policies that we knew would inflict harms, with inadequate knowledge of any positive good they would deliver. The self-aggrandizing public health clerisy gravely damaged the common good. David Bell lists several conventional understandings that were upended with Covid and amount to a dozen little lies that together made up the Big Lie, ranging from masks to natural immunity via infection, misinforming the public, and abandoning quality-adjusted life years as a key metric and informed consent.

The instantly-forged mass consensus on Covid policy has delivered a sicker, poorer and unhappier population in several countries. There is no better examplar than the “duplicitous” and furiously “backpedaling” Anthony Fauci of the pathology of denialism in hindsight, from lockdowns to masks, school closures and vaccines, plus the vicious efforts to crush dissent and destroy the professional reputation of critics. His early statements indicate he did know the existing state of knowledge that natural immunity through infection is useful in building herd immunity, masks in community settings are pointless and lockdowns are incompatible with liberal democratic practices.

Not just individuals but public health institutions too resorted to ethically questionable gaslighting, half-truths and dissembling. Explaining why Americans no longer trust the CDC, Dr Marty Makary from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine points to the example of the CDC strongly recommending booster shots for all 24mn 5-11 year old Americans, despite a lack of outcomes data. 

Philip Klein, commentary editor of the Washington Examiner, wrote confidently on April 30, 2020 that school shutdowns are intensely damaging to society and younger students in particular should be back at school. And Sweden did keep its primary schools open throughout.

Lockdown Skepticism Was Foresight, Not Hindsight

Thus the prevailing uncertainty and lack of knowledge doesn’t wash with the benefit of hindsight.

Professing ignorance now cannot excuse the brutality and severity of pandemic measures: 

  • wholesale house arrest of healthy populations, massive transfer of wealth from the poor and the working class to the megarich while shielding the laptop class from any economic pain; 
  • violations of bodily integrity, “my body my choice,” and informed consent principles, the suspension of the right to peaceful protest, the spread of the surveillance, administrative and biosecurity state;
  •  the transformation of citizens into snitches who boasted of reporting colleagues and neighbors for minor infractions of draconian and often confusing rules;
  • the treatment of people as germ-ridden disease carriers and biohazards, the sheer dehumanization of people who just asked to be left alone,;
  • the cruelty of denying final goodbyes to dying parents and grandparents and the emotional closure of full service funerals,;
  • the state diktats of whom we could meet, how many, where and for how long; what we could buy, during which hours and from where;
  • the theft of children’s education and economic security by loading them with debt decades into the future: 
  • none of this really happened and if it did, it was all so long ago and we did it all for your own good, cross my heart.

Forgive and forget the harms done to our precious children? Hell no.

We were treated as disease-carrying vermin, as selfish ignoramuses, as right-wing nutjobs (but helping Big Pharma, Big Tech and Big Government is progressive?—go figure), while they corrupted science into a belief system with an infallible purity test. Having given us no quarter, they shouldn’t expect any in return. 

Seeing as how they copied Chinese style totalitarian edicts and enforcement, how about a Chinese-style public spectacle of self-criticisms as penance? Would that punishment fit the crime?

A shorter version of this was published in the Spectator Australia.

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