Cross-party MPs told lockdowns caused more damage than Covid

The Pandemic Response and Recovery All-Party Parliamentary Group of cross-party MPs met for its latest session of 2022, to examine the use of lockdowns as a Public Health measure.

Chaired by Labour MP Graham Stringer, the Group listened to evidence on whether lockdowns were an effective or ethical public health measure. The experts also addressed the wider societal repercussions.

The APPG heard from Professor Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh and author of The Year The World Went Mad (Sandstone Press), Professor Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management and visiting academic professor at Bristol University and entrepreneur and philanthropist Luke Johnson. The Group then heard the testimony of Nick Stokes, whose wife Joy died of cancer that went undiagnosed as a consequence of lockdown restrictions on the NHS.

All the experts voiced serious concerns about the catastrophic damage lockdowns have done to society and the untested departure they represented from previous public health policy. Professor Mark Woolhouse opened the expert testimony to MPs and Peers:

“I never imagined that in early 2020 we would come up with a public health intervention that risked causing even more damage than the disease. Were lives saved during the lockdowns? Yes, but it is not widely known that most of the people who died in the first wave got infected during lockdown. We should have put far more effort into protecting those people and those around them – lockdown didn’t save them. At the same time, we should have dropped the least effective measures much more quickly than we did and avoided the second and third lockdowns entirely.

“There are lessons to be learnt here: if your pandemic response plan involves anything as damaging as lockdown you need to plan in advance to deal with the collateral harms too. It was difficult to have a proper debate about the pros and cons of lockdown in the frenzied atmosphere of March 2020 but we must have that debate now if we are to avoid such a harmful policy in future pandemics. If we’d taken a more balanced approach in 2020 we could have saved many lives and largely kept out of lockdown too. That is why I wrote my book, to elucidate the damage to people’s lives, to education, to the economy, and to health thanks to people being told to stay away from the NHS. Lockdowns were not a proportionate or sustainable intervention and the forthcoming enquiry needs to take a critical view of their role.”

Speaking about the relationship between a country's economy and life expectancy of citizens and the ethics of lockdown, Professor Philip Thomas said: “My field is risk management and, when I look at the use of lockdown,  it strikes me that the government didn't give enough consideration to the collateral damage such a wide-ranging measure would cause to the economy,  perhaps not realising the likely size of the knock-on, adverse effects on people's health and life expectancy. Vast sums of money were spent to reduce the risk of Covid using lockdowns but, in its efforts to save one group of people from harm, the government may have exposed others to even greater damage. We have to realise that the trade-off is not between lives and money, but lives versus lives.

“The government and its advisers do not seem to have recognised the extent of the downside risks before implementing a public health intervention that had never before been used on such a scale. In addition, the modelling upon which the lockdowns were decided could not be relied on, when models could, in fact, have given very good insights, something I have demonstrated with judging risk using the J-value. The pandemic could have been managed differently.”

Chairing the meeting, Graham Stringer MP said: “I have made no secret of my concerns about the government’s handling of the pandemic from the outset but hearing what our speakers have said, I fear that these repeated lockdowns will go down as one of the worst public health measures ever undertaken. Hindsight is a great thing but it is clear that the decision making process that led to repeated lockdowns was seriously flawed. There was inadequate consideration of the policies and all the available evidence, let alone any risk assessment to protect against doing more harm than good.

“We have heard compelling evidence from Professor Philip Thomas, whose comprehensive analysis suggests that the net effect of UK Covid-19 restrictions has actually increased the loss of life. I hope the use of lockdowns and all their ramifications is something that the UK Covid 19 Enquiry will not shy away from very closely and critically scrutinising. It cannot be allowed to happen again.”

Luke Johnson, talking about the economic devastation said: “Lockdown was a disproportionate, discriminatory and imprecise intervention which has caused immense harm to society and the economy, in particular the hospitality industry. There were no studies or papers to demonstrate that such measures were effective. Instead it is now clearer than ever that lockdowns were counterproductive. Why did we not focus protection on those we knew were at highest risk? The government and its advisers simply decided to unilaterally shut down the whole of society on the basis of no scientific evidence and no understanding of the consequences.

“Many businesses suffered. Jobs have been lost, lives have been destroyed. These things do not happen in a vacuum. The advisers and Ministers who championed repeated lockdowns have not had to put their careers on the line. No cost benefit analysis has ever been done and not one of those affected have been included in the decision making. The victims of lockdown did not seem to matter, whether economic or health. All that mattered was the public appearance of SAGE’s and the government’s response to Covid. I hope what I said here will hit home and these mistakes will never be repeated.”

The Group heard lastly from Nick Stokes, a former NHS trust chairman whose wife of 46 years, Joy Stokes, died of cancer that went undiagnosed due to NHS COVID-19 restrictions imposed by lockdown: “Joy was the life and soul and the love of my life. She had recovered from breast cancer following a mastectomy and nine months of chemotherapy. She bounced back, playing golf, seeing friends and busy with life. Her last mammogram was clear but at the start of lockdown she was getting pain in her hip which by October became severe. Her doctor did not want to know and dismissed it as arthritis.

“We tried to access a physio though we could not see one in person. None of the treatments were helping. The private physio we tried wrote to our doctors to say Joy needed an x-ray or a scan but we continued to be given the run around until it was too late. By the time Joy got to hospital, the cancer had spread into her bones and then her brain. I talked to the oncology team after she died and they were sure, had she been seen and referred earlier they would have been able to control it and Joy would most likely still be here.”

Vice Chair of the APPG, Sammy Wilson MP, said: “The impact of lockdowns on countless lives has been and continues to be devastating. It is clear that lockdown was an ill thought out and ill advised policy which should have never been deployed. One of the awful knock on effects was to effectively shut down access to healthcare for all non-Covid treatment and we heard the tragic outcome of that in the harrowing testimony from Nick Stokes.

“We also heard about the economic devastation from Luke Johnson and the very real impact that has had on people. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, and will continue to be, as a direct result of lockdowns. The UK Covid 19 enquiry must ask the question: why did we lockdown, not once but three times?”

Biographies of people giving evidence

Professor Mark Woolhouse is Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh. He has degrees from the University of Oxford, the University of York and Queen’s University, Canada. He held research fellowships at the University of Zimbabwe, Imperial College London and Oxford, before moving to Edinburgh in 1997. He studies viral threats to human and animal health. He has published over 300 research papers and is a frequent invited speaker to audiences of academics, clinicians and the general public. He makes regular contributions in the national and international press and media, including the Today programme and the Andrew Marr show. He has advised governments and national and international agencies and was a member of two senior UK advisory groups on the Covid-19 response: the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) and the Scottish Covid-19 Advisory Group. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the African Academy of Sciences and was awarded an OBE in 2002. His book about lockdown, The Year The World Went Mad (Sandstone Press), was published in February 2022.

Professor Philip Thomas, is Professor of Risk Management and visiting academic professor at Bristol University. Philip graduated with first class honours in Cybernetics and Instrument Physics from the University of Reading, knowledge he put to use as a control engineer. He later took on a number of management roles within the nuclear industry, including the decommissioning of the Windscale Advanced Gas Reactor to green-field conditions. He was appointed chair of engineering development at City, University of London in 2000. He became professor of risk management at the University of Bristol in 2015 and was made a visiting academic professor on his retirement in 2021. He has developed the Judgement- or J-value to enable objective decisions to be taken on how much should be spent to protect humans and the environment and led a multi-university team applying this and complementary risk management techniques to establish how best to cope with a big nuclear accident such as Chernobyl. His J-value insights on managing the coronavirus pandemic attracted press coverage worldwide, and he wrote a series of articles on how best to control Covid-19 for The Spectator and The Daily Mail.

He has published journal and conference papers on control, instrumentation, nuclear decommissioning, risk assessment, economics and law. His book, Simulation of Industrial Processes for Control Engineers, was published in 1999. City, University of London awarded him a D.Sc. in 2005 for his contributions to science and engineering.

Luke Johnson is chairman of Brighton Pier Group PLC and a director/owner of Gail’s bakeries and Brompton Bicycles among other businesses. In the 1990s he was chairman of PizzaExpress PLC, and served as Chairman of Channel 4 Television for six years until 2010. He has spent four decades founding, operating and backing at least fifty businesses in the UK, mainly in consumer sectors like hospitality, travel, retailing and recreation. He spent 20 years writing weekly columns on entrepreneurship in consecutively The Sunday Telegraph, The Financial Times and The Sunday Times. He studied medicine at Oxford and chaired The Institute of Cancer Research for eight years until 2021.

Nick Stokes, is a former NHS trust chairman whose wife of 46 years, Joy Stokes, died recently of cancer that went undiagnosed due to NHS COVID-19 restrictions. Under NHS COVID mitigation measures, GPs were closed for in-person visits for much of the last year and had Joy been able to obtain treatment sooner, her doctors believe she would have survived.

View the full minutes for this meeting, held on Monday 28 March 2022.

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