The cost of being a lockdown sceptic

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In December, the weather changed. When lockdown was re-imposed in England, cold winds blew for public figures who questioned the government’s handling of Covid-19.

These figures were not “anti-vaxxers”, “Covid deniers” or “opportunistic media voices who made a habit of denying the necessity of restrictions and the severity of the pandemic”, as The Guardian sententiously mischaracterised opposition. They were established commentators who understood that Covid-19 is potentially dangerous and that practical measures (including vaccines) were reasonable responses. These critics pointed out the apparent ineffectiveness of mass lockdowns, the increased toll of missed diagnoses and deferred/cancelled treatments, impact of school closures, rising mental-health problems and astronomical public debt.

Lockdown has exposed many free-expression supporters as fair-weather friends of open discussion

For presenting reasonable grounds for concern, sceptical journalists and broadcasters such as Maajid Nawaz, Peter Hitchens, Allison Pearson, Toby Young and Julia Hartley-Brewer – as well as respected health specialists and scientists Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor Carl Heneghan and others – faced public execration. Prominent figures who accused them of not taking Covid-19 seriously included Piers Morgan, Neil O’Brien MP, journalists Paul Mason and Dan Hodges, Dr Hilary Jones and others, not mentioning officials and cabinet ministers. They appeared to disagree less with the lockdown sceptics’ points of view, and more the fact that they were allowed to dissent in the first place.

Why such anger?

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