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We still don’t know if lockdowns work

Regent Street in London during lockdown. Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

A year ago today, “Britain was set to be locked down again for the fourth time”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. The omicron variant was gaining ground, and the government advisory group Sage was predicting up to 6,000 deaths a day unless “interventions” were made. But when Rishi Sunak heard what was happening, he cut short a trip to California, flew home and threatened to resign as chancellor if lockdown was imposed. So the whole thing was called off, and Sage’s ominous forecasts never came to pass. The whole affair reveals a “massive flaw” in the government system: decisions are taken on unreliable science “with minimal scrutiny”.

Sunak was able to argue back against Sage because he had seen less alarming (and more accurate) data about omicron compiled by the bank JP Morgan. Until then, Cabinet members were just shown terrifying “scenarios” with any good news filtered out. If we’re to better handle the next pathogen that sweeps Britain, “dud information” needs to be exposed and policies properly tested. Alas, a “pattern of denial” is already developing. In a pandemic report published earlier this month by (among others) Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, “the £400bn question – do lockdowns work? – is breezily cast aside”. Graham Medley, chair of Sage’s modellers, has even collected a medal from the Royal Society for his work. This bodes ill for the future. “If old mistakes aren’t recognised, they’re certain to be repeated.”