Throughout the pandemic, whenever we have dared to hope normal life might soon return our hopes have been dashed by some terrifying new graph or yet another doom-laden claim from Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory committee on emergencies.
This week, of course, was no exception, as our long-awaited Freedom Day was postponed by yet another month. So much for ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’, the promise back in March 2020.
On far too many occasions, Sage’s alarmist predictions during the pandemic have turned out to be grossly wide of the mark.
Here are just a few of the frightening claims that have been used to keep us in lockdown and to maintain all manner of heavy-handed restrictions over lives – and how badly those predictions have fared against reality…
Warning of 550,000 deaths from the start
A study by Imperial College’s Neil Ferguson (then a member of Sage) published on March 16 2020 dramatically changed the Government’s approach to Covid and led directly to the first lockdown the following week.
Infamously, this paper predicted up to 550,000 deaths if the Government took no action. The demand for ICU beds, it claimed, would peak at 230,000 in May last year – many multiples of the 5,000 intensive care beds which Ferguson said the NHS then had available. Even with quarantine and social distancing measures, it predicted 17,000 ICU beds would be needed at the peak.
Of course, we will never truly know how many would have died had the Government done nothing – although work by Professor Simon Wood of Edinburgh University suggests that cases may have peaked before the first lockdown on March 23. In the event, the number of people on ventilators peaked at 3,247 in April 2020. That is a very long way from 17,000 occupied ICU beds.
Moreover, Neil ‘Professor Lockdown’ Ferguson had assumed an Infection Fatality Rate (the proportion of people who catch the virus who then die) of 0.9 per cent.
Yet just two weeks after the paper was published, one of the signatories published a revised estimate that gave a much lower Infection Fatality Rate of 0.66 per cent. Today, many believe Covid’s IFR is lower still.
A scare at Halloween – but we already knew figures were wrong
A Downing Street press conference was held on October 31 to announce a second lockdown, starting on Bonfire Night.
To justify this drastic move, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance presented slides. One frightening graph predicted 4,000 deaths per day by December – four times as high as the spring peak had been. A worst-case scenario suggested deaths could even reach 6,000 a day.
Yet some viewers noticed that the same graph apparently showed 1,000 deaths a day by the end of October – when the press conference was held. Yet at the time, deaths were averaging just 250 a day.
The scenario presented in the graph – made by Public Health England and the University of Cambridge – was weeks out of date and had already been proven to be wide of the mark.
A few days later Sir David Norgrove, head of the UK Statistics Authority, criticised the use of the graph, saying: ‘Full transparency of data used to inform decisions is vital to public understanding and public confidence.’