Boris the Freedom Fighter

From Lockdown Sceptics here.

According to this morning’s papers, Boris is to blame for Britain’s huge winter death toll from COVID-19. The reason? According to the Daily Mail‘s “sources”, i.e. Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister stubbornly resisted the advice of SAGE to impose a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ last autumn – which would have nipped rising infections in the bud, or something – instead introducing the tier system as a compromise. But he eventually caved in to pressure at the end of October after he was bullied into imposing a second lockdown by Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak, Dominic Cummings, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty. As he reluctantly agreed, the Prime Minister is alleged (by Dom) to have ruled out a third lockdown, saying: “No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!”

Here’s Dom’s version of history, via the Mail, which recasts Boris as a liberty-loving lockdown sceptic.

The Prime Minister found himself outgunned when Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock led the demand for a new clampdown on the disease.

Earlier in the pandemic, he had been supported by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who warned of the dire economic consequences of national lockdowns.

By October, Mr Sunak had moved closer to the stance of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance strongly backed the position of Mr Gove and Mr Hancock.

A well-placed source said: “The PM hates the idea of lockdowns. He kept saying ‘there’s no evidence they even work’ and that ‘it goes against everything I’ve stood for’. But he was outnumbered – and ended up sitting in sullen silence as the others told him he had no choice.”

The tipping point reportedly came after a passionate speech by Mr Gove at a meeting with Mr Johnson and senior ministers.

“Michael said that if he didn’t impose a second lockdown there would be a catastrophe,” a source close to Mr Gove said.

“Hospitals would be over-run, people would be turned away from A&E and people would be dying in hospital corridors and hospital car parks.

“He told the PM he would have to send soldiers into hospitals to keep people out.

“TV film of that would be beamed around the globe. Was that the image of his post-Brexit Britain he wanted the world to see? It was devastating. The PM had no answer.”

Insiders say that from that point Mr Johnson “gave in to the inevitable” – and agreed to a second lockdown. But he also made it clear that it was to be the last, and under no circumstances world he agree to a third lockdown.

One said: “You have to understand how difficult this has been for the PM. The free spirit libertarian and journalist mischief maker in him wanted to join the lockdown sceptics revolt. But faced with being told by his Cabinet and experts that he would be held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths he knew he had no choice.”

The problem with this attempt to smear Boris is that it takes it for granted that he was wrong to rule out a ‘circuit breaker’ in the autumn and wrong to resist the pressure from the lockdown hawks surrounding him to impose a second lockdown in November. In fact, he was right on both counts.

First, let’s deal with the canard that a ‘circuit breaker’ in the autumn would have nipped surging infections in the bud, thereby massively reducing the ‘second wave’ death toll.

The argument relies on a counter-factual – a claim about what would have happened if Boris had done SAGE’s bidding. Counter-factuals are usually difficult to falsify, but not in this case because we have a ‘control’ in the form of Wales which imposed a ‘fire break’ lockdown from October 23rd to November 9th. In spite of this, the trajectory of confirmed cases in Wales, on a per capita basis, was almost identical to that of England.

Source: Financial Times

What about the claim that Boris was wrong to resist the pressure to impose a second lockdown in November? It’s become conventional wisdom that cases in England only started to fall after the second lockdown was imposed. But as Edinburgh University Professor Simon Woods pointed out in a paper for Biometrics, infections were falling before all three lockdowns were imposed, including the second. Instead of relying on the modelling produced by Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College – one of the models that SAGE based its projections and recommendations on and which no doubt informed the views of the lockdown hawks in their showdown with Boris, including Gove’s hyperbolic ‘soldiers in hospitals’ claim – Woods estimated the daily number of new fatal infections from the data on daily deaths and fatal disease duration. He summarised his findings in a recent article in the Spectator:

Before the second lockdown it was argued that the tier system was ineffective and that cases were surging. But the reconstructions suggest that fatal infections — and by implication Covid infections generally — were not surging. They were in decline having peaked earlier.

Here’s the model produced by Simon Woods and his colleague Ernst Wit, with whom he wrote another paper that came to the same conclusion. It shows that the R was below one, and hence infection levels were falling (in most regions and in total), before the second lockdown.

More here.

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