Carl Heneghan

We needed a Covid inquiry – but this isn’t it

What is the point of the Covid Inquiry? It should be to establish which parts of the government’s pandemic response worked, which parts didn’t, and what to do next time. Instead, it is a farce – a spectacle of hysteria, name-calling and trivialities.

The stakes could hardly be higher. Lockdown was the most disruptive policy in British peacetime history, with huge ramifications for our health, children’s education and the economy. At the time, lockdown theory was new and untested: there was no data around it. Now we have data. This is an opportunity for the inquiry to gather evidence and ask whether lockdown and other interventions actually worked. What were the benefits and the side-effects? What about masks? Care homes? Mental health? We need to learn from the results before the next pandemic.

It seems to be working on the premise that we should have locked down harder, sooner and longer

Instead we have a KC who seems uninterested in substance and obsessed with reading out rude words he has found in other people’s private messages. What Dominic Cummings said about his colleagues in moments of exasperation is treated like the real substance of the issue. The whole inquiry seems to be working on the premise that we should have locked down harder, sooner and longer – and that, if we had, Sars-CoV-2 would have melted away like snow. ‘Follow the models’ will probably be the inquiry’s closing motto.

The refusal to address the core issues – the denialism that seems encoded into the inquiry – is, in a sense, the culmination of a trend that took hold during the pandemic. I call it the silencing of science. It is a process in which supposedly science-led policies are made using either bad evidence or no evidence. It is the way in which dissenting voices, even in academia, are dismissed as malign or confused, or just brushed off as ‘sceptics’.

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Written by
Carl Heneghan
Carl Heneghan is professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford and director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine

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