20 March 2023
The Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group listened to “the critique from the left” when the authors of The Covid Consensus: the global assault on democracy and the poor spoke to the Group about how the failures of UK and global public health policy devastated the lives of poorer communities.
As the economic and health fall out from government covid policies continues to worsen, Professor Toby Green and writer Thomas Fazi highlighted how the pandemic policy response, in particular lockdown and vaccine mandates, were an assault on the poorest sectors of society.
Writer and journalist Thomas Fazi, began by focusing on the policy response: “In many respects we believe the roots of the destructive Covid-19 policy can be traced back 40 years during which a framework has been created as society underwent a neo-liberal transformation. It did not happen in isolation or come out of nowhere. So when we try to understand how and why, we believe we really must confront the failure of covid policy and its consequences within that context if we are to prevent governments from wreaking such devastation again. One key question is why did such a prescriptive and censorious single scientific narrative take over? Overturning the scientific method and decades of evidenced public health policies, around which society cohered.
“Part of the answer lies in the revolving door between the private and the public, not to mention the collusion of the media and social media. The extent to which government and business have become integrated, the scale of the corruption and conflicting vested interests underpins the neo-liberal economy and workings of global government and non-governmental organisations. Also we’ve seen the rise of the politics of fear and health security. This all impacted the Covid policy response and what unfolded globally from March 2020. It goes beyond domestic party politics.”
Toby Green, Professor of Precolonial and Lusophone African History and Culture at Kings College London went on to say: “Covid policies were an international disaster. By March 2023, according to Worldometers, Africa’s total number of Covid deaths was 258,000. Deaths of children under five due to malnutrition and starvation because of lockdown policy, a serious risk WHO understood in April 2020, is now in the multi millions. That is the reality globally of covid policies and as devastating as it has been in the UK, particularly for poorer, disadvantaged or marginalised groups, parts of the developing world have been ravaged in ways we would struggle to imagine.
“Lockdowns were not part of pandemic preparedness plans or any previously accepted orthodox global public health policy. Yet WHO imposed the radical policy in February 2020, to slow the spread of the virus, putting pressure on developing countries regardless of the huge knock on effects. Consider that one in seven of the world’s population live in informal settlements. In these environments curfews and lockdowns crowded people inside, doing the opposite of stopping the spread. In these countries, socio-economic conditions and average age of the population meant the threat of lost livelihoods and hunger far outstripped the threat of covid. We wait to see what the Covid 19 Inquiry will find, but the WHO, which was unable to provide the Inquiry with a written statement, and many in the West who should have known better, led a policy response with horrific costs.”
The Group’s Chair, Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, said: “Thanks to the Lockdown Files, we now have proof that much of the Covid government policy decisions were unscientific and political. Worse still, not only did these policies fail to stop the spread of Covid but they inflicted avoidable substantial and lasting damage.
“We have naturally been very focused on domestic economic, social and health crises that resulted from government covid policies. With the huge financial consequences, NHS waiting lists, soaring mental health issues, increased poverty levels at home, we forget that many of the poorest societies in the developing world have suffered to a far greater degree. Existing inequalities have been exacerbated by worsening poverty, childhood malnutrition and starvation and the suspension of vital non-Covid public health programmes. What we have heard today focuses all our minds on the global consequences of lockdowns and related policies. Why the policy response to the Covid-19 pandemic happened as it did is a complex issue but it is one we must understand to avoid making the same mistakes again.”
The Hon Graham Stringer MP added: “All countries made mistakes, but the biggest mistake was not following the science. The Labour opposition were right to support the government at the start of the epidemic but when it became clear that the government was not following the science, the Labour opposition should have withdrawn support at that point and been much more critical.
“The government also threw the pre-prepared plans out of the window. We now need a quick and focused inquiry to find out why that happened and to learn all the lessons that need learning, before the inevitable next viral epidemic arrives. We can't wait ten years.
“Sweden, so censured for being an outlier, was one of the few left-wing governments that got their Covid policy response mostly right, a stark contrast to the position the mainstream Left here and elsewhere took, for too long separated from the daily reality of most of the population, particularly the poorest.”
Biography of the speakers:
Toby Green is a professor of African history at King’s College London. His previous book, A Fistful of Shells, was awarded a number of international literary prizes as well as being shortlisted for the LA Times Book Prize and the Wolfson History Prize. He has written widely about the Covid-19 pandemic for outlets including African Arguments, Prospect, and UnHerd, and is a member of the steering group of Collateral Global.
Thomas Fazi is a writer, journalist and translator. His previous books includeThe Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent – and How We Can Take It Back (2014, Pluto) and Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (2017, Pluto). He is a columnist for UnHerd and Compact.
View the full minutes for this meeting, held on Monday 20 March 2023.