This is Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday
This is Peter Hitchens’ Mail on Sunday
In the name of Covid, the State has already thrust itself into every corner of our existence.
It has come between husbands and wives at the ends of their lives. It has forbidden the old to embrace their grandchildren.
It has denied us funerals and weddings, locked the churches, silenced the ancient monastic music of cathedral choirs and prevented the free worship of God for the first time in 800 years, and banned us (unless we are Left-wing) from holding or attending public meetings.
It has ordered us to stay at home, scolded or fined us for sunbathing, going on country rambles or even entering our front gardens.
It has forced millions of us to stop working, sabotaged the educations – at school and university – of untold numbers of young people and has become our boss and paymaster in the biggest state takeover of life and work ever attempted by non-Communists.
Soon we will discover that it has also wrecked an already wobbly economy and separated untold numbers of us from jobs and businesses we thought were safe. Soon, too, it will also separate us from our savings, through punishing tax and savage inflation, to pay for the disaster it has caused.
Now it presumes to tell us what to wear. And what it wants us to wear is a soggy cloth muzzle, a face-nappy that turns its wearer from a normal human into a mumbling, mouthless submissive.
And this, it seems, is popular. Is there nothing the modern British people will not put up with? Britain’s muzzle consumption is now so high that six months from now there will be reports of dolphins and whales floundering about in an ocean made sticky by millions of gallons of hand-sanitiser, as they choke on congealed clumps of used muzzles.
These items are set to become the new plastic bags. Why is this frenzy taking place?
Here is a clue. On July 12, Deborah Cohen, the medical correspondent of BBC2’s Newsnight, revealed an astonishing thing. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had reversed its advice on face masks, from ‘don’t wear them’ to ‘do wear them’.
But the key fact was that it had not done so because of scientific information – the evidence had not backed the wearing of face coverings – but because of political lobbying.
She revealed on Twitter that: ‘We had been told by various sources [that the] WHO committee reviewing the evidence had not backed masks but they recommended them due to political lobbying.’ She said the BBC had then put this to the WHO, which did not deny it.
In March, the WHO had said: ‘There is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can protect them from infection with respiratory viruses, including Covid-19.’
The American TV news channel CNN reported on March 31 that Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme, had said at a briefing in Geneva: ‘There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit.
‘In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly.’
A few weeks ago, the WHO changed its advice to say it ‘advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.’
Earlier that same month, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, had said that wearing face masks would do little to combat the outbreak.
While noting that if someone was infected, they might reduce the danger of spreading the disease by covering their faces, Prof Whitty said wearing a face mask had almost no effect on reducing the risk of contracting the illness.
He stated: ‘In terms of wearing a mask, our advice is clear: that wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all. So we do not advise that.’
Also in March, the Advertising Standards Authority banned two firms’ advertisements for masks, saying that the adverts were ‘misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason’.
At about the same time, Dr Jenny Harries, a Deputy Chief Medical Officer, warned that people could be putting themselves more at risk from contracting Covid by wearing muzzles. She said masks could ‘actually trap the virus’, and cause the person wearing it to breathe it in. She explained: ‘For the average member of the public walking down a street, it is not a good idea.’
On April 3, the other Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said he did not believe healthy people wearing them would reduce the spread of the disease in the UK.
The British Government has also zig-zagged. As recently as June 24, in a series of official pamphlets for reopening shops and services, the Department for Business and Enterprise said repeatedly: ‘The evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small.’
This was true at the time and it is still true. The evidence is indeed weak. There is plenty of research showing that the case for muzzles is poor, especially a survey done for the dental profession four years ago, which quietly vanished from the internet after mask opponents began to cite it.
The scientific papers in favour of muzzling are full of weak, hesitant words such as ‘probably, ‘could’ and ‘may’ – which can equally well be expressed as ‘probably not’, ‘could not’ or ‘may not’.
There has not been any great discovery in the past few days.
Generally, the main way of discovering if something works is the Randomised Control Trial (RCT), in which the proposed treatment or method is tested directly and thoroughly.
This hasn’t been done with muzzles, probably because it would be a bit difficult and possibly because muzzle zealots fear the results would not help their case.
Amazingly, the chief spokesman for science in this country, who should surely support proper rigour, has dismissed such RCTs.
Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, sneered at ‘inappropriate’ RCTs as ‘methodological fetishism’. He did this while advocating more compulsory muzzle-wearing when he appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme on July 7 – as the political lobbying for muzzles intensified.
All that has changed is the politics. Why are they changing? Interestingly, Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s muzzle edict was the first action by the London Government which actually copied a move made by Nicola Sturgeon’s extremely Left-wing Edinburgh administration.
There are many signs that it has not been thought through, at least by scientists.
Why are we more likely to spread Covid in a shop than we are to do so in a pub or restaurant? The question cannot be answered.
What evidence there is certainly suggests that the risk of transmission is greater if we linger longer, but the Government does not dare close down the catering trade again, because it would be wildly unpopular and because these businesses are on the point of bankruptcy – and such an action would shut them.
The truth is that the muzzle policy is all about power and fear.
The Government began its wild, disproportionate shutdown of the country by spreading fear of a devastating plague that would destroy the NHS and kill untold thousands.
Now, as many people find that Covid-19 is, in fact, nothing of the kind, new ways have to be found to keep up the alarm levels.
One was exposed on Friday by the superb scientists of the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine. Puzzled by the way that Covid death figures in England continued to pour in, while they had all but ceased in Scotland, they looked at the figures from Public Health England (PHE).
And they found, in their own devastating words ‘It seems that PHE regularly looks for people on the NHS database who have ever tested positive, and simply checks to see if they are still alive or not.
‘PHE does not appear to consider how long ago the Covid test result was, nor whether the person has been successfully treated in hospital and discharged to the community. Anyone who has tested Covid positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included on the PHE Covid death figures.
‘By this PHE definition, no one with Covid in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness. A patient who has tested positive, but been successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a Covid death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later.’
This problem would be avoided by having a simple cut-off, where those who tested positive more than 28 days ago were no longer counted as Covid deaths. Scotland does this. That is why its figures are lower.
Findings are now also pouring in which suggest that a horribly high number of the excess deaths during the last few months were not caused by Covid, but by people failing to seek treatment for heart attacks, strokes and cancer.
Despite the propagandists of the BBC, which has tried as hard as it can never to mention the legions of dissenting scientists who dispute the Government’s policy, people are beginning to wonder, in increasing numbers, if they might have been taken for a ride.
This Government has no great authority. It is a Cabinet of undistinguished, inexperienced unknowns, headed by an exhausted and empty Prime Minister whose sparkle, such as it was, is fast fading.
In a few weeks’ time, the Government faces the onset of what may be the worst economic crisis since 1929. It needs to keep the fear levels up to maintain its authority.
One way of doing this is the ceaseless promotion of an alleged ‘second wave’ of Covid, for which there is no evidence.
Another is to undertake a ferocious testing policy. This is now happening in Leicester where testers go from door to door to discover people who are ‘infected’ with Covid, even if they have no symptoms (which is usually the case) and are perfectly healthy. Then they can raise the alarm and close down the city.
But muzzling the populace is even better. People such as me, who think Ministers’ response to the virus is wildly out of proportion, have until now been able to live amid the propaganda, trying to stay sane.
But the muzzle is a badge of subservience and submission. Anyone who dons it publicly is agreeing to the Government’s crazy assessment of the level of danger.
Societies in which citizens are discouraged from speaking out against the regime, as this has become, are pretty disgraceful. But countries where the citizens are compelled to endorse the opinion of the state are a serious step further down the path to totalitarianism.
It is even worse than that.
Look at the muzzled multitudes, their wide eyes peering out anxiously from above the hideous gag which obscures half their faces and turns them from normal human beings into mouthless, obedient submissives.
The psychological effect of these garments, on those who wear them, is huge.
And it also has another nasty result for society as a whole.
Dissenters, who prefer not to muzzle themselves, are made to stand out from the surrendered majority, who then become quite keen on pressuring the non-conformists to do as they are told, and on informing against them.
I predicted the same outcome during the House Arrest period in April, and was mocked for it, but it came true.
When all this began, I felt fear. But it was not fear of the disease, which was clearly overstated from the start.
It was fear of exactly what is happening to us, the final closing down of centuries of human liberty and the transformation of one of the freest countries on Earth into a regimented, conformist society, under perpetual surveillance, in which a subservient people scurries about beneath the stern gaze of authority.
It is my view that, if you don that muzzle, you are giving your assent to that change.