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The PM was panicked into abandoning a sensible Covid-19 strategy, and has plunged society into crisis

A man walks next to a repaired broken heart made of wool, in downtown Zagreb
Millions will suffer because world leaders have chosen to follow the herd rather than back herd immunity Credit: ANTONIO BRONIC

Boris Johnson risks being  flattened by an obsolete ideology crumbling under the weight of its own contradictions

Beyond the slam of lockdown, does one detect the gentle quivering of a Prime Minister who has lost his nerve? What irony that Boris Johnson’s opponents have failed to pick up on this weakness. In their desperation to whip up hysteria against No 10’s “insufficient” coronavirus response, the liberal media has missed what could prove the century’s biggest scoop.

Namely that, faced with the protestations of the London bubble, the PM has jettisoned the only sensible strategy for dealing with the biggest global crisis since the Second World War. To put lockdown in the most cynical terms, the Government has decided to trash the economy rather than expose itself to political criticism. Unless Mr Johnson U-turns, the fallout could be cataclysmic.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the signs that our new Government would not resort to the same clunky damage control as other countries were reasonable. While Italy shooed people into their homes to stem all infections, the UK’s approach seemed more nuanced – getting the most vulnerable to self-isolate, while allowing lower risk people to get infected on a scale that wouldn’t overwhelm the NHS.

Through this “herd immunity” strategy, a resurgence of the virus after it had seemingly peaked would be avoided. The approach was creepy, clinical and completely correct.

For a flicker, the Government seemed willing to withstand the paroxysms of its opponents and the shivers of its sympathists to take this long-termist course of action. Yes, it gambled on strong assumptions. But with leadership and clever use of numerical probability scale methods – which incidentally helped a clutch of obscure US superforecasters to actually predict Covid-19 – they may have pulled it off.

Instead, No 10 blinked, ditching herd immunity for an Imperial College research paper, which warned that hundreds of thousands could die without immediate, draconian action. It preposterously argued that lockdown may have to continue for as long as 18 months, until a vaccine is found. This despite the fact there is no scientific consensus (a rival paper claims a few weeks of lockdown may be sufficient).

Its recommendations also entail just as many risks and assumptions as the herd immunity strategy. In its assessment that 500,000 could die if the Government did nothing, the paper did not adequately address the question of how many of these victims would die anyway within a short period of something else.

Its modelling may also have underestimated the NHS’s ability to improve its intensive care capacity (the UK has just okayed medical ventilators that could equip the health service with 30,000 machines). Nor does it factor in the non-coronavirus deaths resulting from lockdown, like suicides.

So why has the PM traded in one controversial strategy for another that is, at the very least, equally vulnerable to deep criticism? Because the same old managerial elite dysfunction that got the world into this mess lingers beneath the surface of virtually all governments, like an undiagnosed cancer; this makes it impossible for them to defeat a simple virus, much like a Covid-19 victim with an “underlying illness”.

Thus “doing the right thing at the right time” has proved no match for wails about the need to be seen to be “doing whatever it takes”. And thus Mr Johnson, and other leaders, have ignored the unquantifiable damage of their actions (from the sinking of the world economy to the sacrifice of the global middle class) in order to meet spurious quantifiable targets.

There is a twist, though this time it’s of limited comfort. Rumours are aswirl that they are orchestrating herd immunity by stealth. The story goes that everything from low enforcement of lockdown to the dispersal of asymptomatic school children into family homes, is part of the plan. Critics will call this saving face. But, if true, it hits on the curious blind spot of a so-called populist: Mr Johnson’s insecure reluctance to square with the public.

He should pay heed to Trump, who is raring to get America up and running by Easter lest the cure be worst than the disease. Premature perhaps, but at least he is forcing Americans to frankly debate the trade-offs: millions of livelihoods versus thousands of lives.

One can’t help but wonder whether coronavirus is the West’s Berlin Wall moment. Liberal managerialism is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions much in the same way communism did 30 years ago.

In puffing about climate change while ignoring threats like bio-engineered pandemics and nuclear war, UN junketeers, EU sycophants and Westminster charlatans and all the other globalist risk managers have shown themselves to be incapable of prioritising risks.

In blowing up the world economy, they have also shown themselves to be incapable of managing risks without exposing the planet to even greater dangers.

Most chilling of all perhaps, as this pandemic demonstrates, when managerial elites fail, they fall back on soft totalitarianism and the surveillance state to crawl their countries out of the messes they themselves have, through their sheer incompetence, created.

In the long term, total systems change in Britain now looks more inevitable than ever; we may look back on coronavirus as even more of a catalyst than Brexit in time. But for now, Mr Johnson’s short-term choice in coming weeks is clear: back herd immunity or be prepared to fall with the infirm herd of global elites, who will not survive this disgraceful fiasco.