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The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

A Sting in the Tail by the British Medical Establishment


First do no harm, states the Hippocratic Oath. In the coronavirus pandemic, medical experts here and in several European countries prescribed lockdown. Yet this was not evidence-based practice, and it may indeed have been more harmful than the virus itself.

In hospitals across the country, doctors and nurses are working tirelessly as a surge of coronavirus cases arrives. But some prominent figures at the top of the medical profession have engaged in scaremongering, pushing the government into an unprecedented shutdown of the economy. The British medical establishment is not merely at fault for overestimating the risk; arguably it has pursued a politically-motivated campaign, exploiting a viral outbreak to advance an anti-Boris and anti-Brexit agenda.

When the coronavirus first appeared in Britain, the government consulted its experts in the chief medical officer and chief scientific officer. Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were reassuring left-and right-hand men to Boris Johnson, as he spoke to the nation on the looming pandemic. But as the media, political opponents and many in the general public demanded rapid and radical action, it was assistant chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries who most impressed. Her calm, measured guidance, emphasising people's need for exercise, fresh air and keeping physically and mentally healthy, was a crucial counter to the calls for mass quarantine.

Social distancing was advised, after the government was criticised for implying a policy of herd immunity. A nationwide scheme was announced for protecting those most vulnerable to the virus: the frail, elderly and people with chronic diseases, all of whom would have compromised immune systems. This seemed right: schools could stay open, and businesses could trade, and we were treated as responsible adults. But this was not enough for the vociferous critics, as Freddie Sayers described on Unherd: -

'Deep mistrust from the long Brexit battle meant that whatever the Cummings-Johnson government initially proposed was instinctively suspected as bad and wrong by its political opponents; so the virtuous Left-liberal position quickly came to be calling for a more draconian shutdown. Rival experts were found, a campaign developed, and the Government ultimately changed course against a background of huge political pressure.'

Brexit is crowbarred into any controversy, even a virus emanating from distant Wuhan. We should have stayed in the EU reporting system for communicable diseases, some medical experts argued, as if we didn't know Covid-19 was coming. Particularly scathing of the government's response is Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. Other influential critics are Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and neurologist David Nicholl. More on the Boris-bashers later, but let's start with Neil Ferguson of Imperial College., the key rival expert to whom Sayers referred.

Ferguson's unsolicited advice should have been taken with a pinch of salt by the government. It was he who had drastically exaggerated the BSE epidemic, urging the cull of millions of livestock, leading to a spate of suicide in the farming community. But Ferguson and colleagues produced a timely report that would force a complete change of strategy.Boris had little choice: he either acted to prevent Ferguson's dire prediction of 250 to 500 thousand deaths, or he would be held responsible for the daily toll in the media. Imagine: 'Two hundred died yesterday because of your policy, Mr Johnson; will you not resign?'

Meanwhile the medical catastrophists compared British inaction with radical interventions abroad, as in France and Italy. The more authoritarian the response, the more caring the country, apparently. Professor McKee, whose Twitter backdrop is the EU flag, retweeted this by 'Brexitcshambles': -

'Compassionate New Zealand PM Jacina Ardern says she would not tolerate tens of thousands of New Zealanders dying from COVID-19 for the nation to obtain herd immunity. Boris Johnson – Meh'. Ardern's lockdown, like in many Western countries, is an extreme measure that will trash the economy and severely harm the livelihood of countless people.

Nicholl, who labels himself 'I'm a senior person in the NHS' in his despair at the government consulting the wrong people, claims that the Chinese coronavirus is as bad as the Spanish flu of a hundred years ago. It's disturbing how these medics have omitted evidence from their opinions. The Spanish flu killed 50 million; the current bug has taken 38000 lives at time of writing. The first figure is a tragedy of historic proportion, while the latter is well within the range of seasonal flu fluctuations. 

Horton, whose Twitter account is headed 'Welcome to a permanent attack on the present', raves from dawn to dusk on the government's failings. In response to a minister not wishing to speculate on the duration of the lockdown, he tweeted: -

'On the contrary, the government should be preparing the country for a 3-month period of extreme physical isolation.'

In the USA there is a similar assault on the government by the medical establishment. On 15th March, as the first cases emerged, Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases predicted that 21 million Americans would be hospitalised with 1.7 million deaths. By 28th March he reduced the mortality estimate to between one and two hundred thousand. His colleague Dr Deborah Birx, however, said that 1.6 to 2.2 million would die unless social distancing is enforced.

No scientific evidence is needed for these terrifying numbers, but they are a useful stick with which to beat the nemesis of Donald Trump. These experts are making mathematical models fit their preconceived notions, like hubristic economists before the 2008 global financial crisis. Currently the mortality rate is rising in western Europe, in the very countries that introduced lockdown. With the virus soon to pass its peak, we should study carefully the differences between countries.The Swedes kept their bars, restaurants, gyms and schools open; life goes on as normal. This provides counter-evidence to any claim that the lockdown saved thousands of lives. Furthermore, in most countries the mortality is likely to be within the range of seasonal influenza fluctuations.

Medical critics, many with Twitter records of anti-Brexit bile, are causing economic carnage that will have dreadful impact on health service funding for the next decade at least. Newspapers shame people not following the coronavirus regime, but who are the real covidiots? 

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