Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Covid fearmongering has consequences too

The scaremongers have overplayed their hand. Omicron could prove disastrous, they warned. They scoffed at the early indicators from South Africa suggesting it was milder than Delta. ‘MYTH BUSTER’, declared the Sun when Chris Whitty poured cold water on the idea that Omicron might be milder than Delta. ‘Deaths could hit 6,000 a day’, screamed the Guardian, turning Sage’s worst-case scenario into a chilling headline. The news was full of it: we’re doomed.

Yet now it seems pretty clear that these fearful prophecies were way off. Just a week after we were being bombarded with these visions of the Biblical horrors Omicron would visit upon our nation, it’s being reported that this variant really is milder than the Delta one. This raises some really serious questions for the expert classes who are meant to be guiding us through this health crisis. Have they lost the plot? And now, will they lose the trust of the people?

The turnaround in recent days has been extraordinary. Last week, suggesting that Omicron might be milder was dangerous, it threatened to undermine the seriousness of the pandemic. Whitty became visibly frustrated whenever this possibility was raised. The Twitterati pooh-poohed any positive news coming from South Africa. (First South Africa was wrongly blamed for the Omicron variant, then its experts were implicitly defamed as untrustworthy amateurs when they said to the world: ‘Guys, you’re overreacting.’) Two million cases a day, thousands of deaths a day — that is virtually all we heard in relation to Omicron.

Maybe this is what Covid will be from now on — basically a bad cold

The front pages are starkly different today. ‘Official: Omicron 50% less severe’, says the Mail. ‘Omicron hospital risk is two thirds lower’, says the Telegraph. Even the Guardian’s no doubt distressed headline-writers have had to admit that their earlier vision of another nightmarish wave of disease whacking Brexit Britain might have been a tad overdone.

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