Three years on, there is a new generation of lockdown sceptics – and they’re rewriting history

Now academics on the left have joined the anti-lockdown chorus. Yet their Covid theories rely on a travesty of the facts

By Richard Seymour
Mar 23, 2023

Was the pain worth it? Between March 2020 and March 2021, the UK had three national lockdowns. The goal was to control the spread of Covid-19. Essential businesses were closed, as were schools and universities, and “stay at home” orders meant families and friends were often kept apart. At the time, the government was unenthusiastic about lockdown and many Tories opposed it. Lord Sumption, for example, insisted that if it weren’t for lockdown, people could have “a perfectly normal life.”

Now a new chorus of lockdown sceptics includes people who position themselves on the left, such as the historian Toby Green and his colleague Thomas Fazi. They have joined the ranks of the Tory right in saying that the public, which strongly supported lockdown and even wanted to go further and faster than the government did, were misled by an apocalyptic campaign by medical professionals overstating the benefits and understating the costs of lockdown.

Commentators on the left and centre, wary of lockdown’s economic costs and sceptical of constant appeals to “the science” when it comes to Covid-19, have expressed sympathy for some of Green and Fazi’s argument around the necessity of lockdowns; though Green and Fazi have gone much further, in arguing that vaccine resistance was rational and that masks don’t work. As David Wallace-Wells documents in the New York Times, this is part of a general pattern of revisionism among journalists, politicians and even some health professionals about Covid-19 and lockdowns.

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One problem with assessing the claims about lockdown is that it isn’t a single action. The catch-all term “lockdown” permits a certain muddying of the waters, as when a “meta-analysis” carried out by a trio of anti-lockdown economists, led by Steve Hanke of the libertarian, Koch-funded Cato Institute, included such things as “mandated face masks” in its definition of lockdown. This study is one of the sources cited by Green, who doesn’t mention the political bias of its authors in his case against lockdowns.

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