Collective madness centrally planned

There’s a well-established and (by that certain percentage of us) well-recognised madness in government policy on COVID, at home and abroad. In the light of Omicron, for example, there’s a push to vaccinate everything that moves with agents that didn’t prevent travellers bringing it from South Africa, and despite the fact though most patients are younger, fully vaccinated individuals. The vaccination is now known to give a week or two of added susceptibility (the same phenomenon that dictates that flu-vaccines are given before, not during, epidemics), so we are guaranteeing a surge in illness at the worst time of year, to prevent a surge in cases at the worst time of year. We are also imposing vaccine passports with plentiful evidence, even from Scotland and Wales, that they do nothing to prevent transmission, and kindly granting the alternative concession of a recent lateral flow test, when it is known that LFTs in Omicron only become positive 24 hours after symptoms appear. All pain, no gain.

But less reported on is the intriguing way that, from the start, existing devolved planning and expertise were bypassed in the COVID response, in favour of central bureaucracy – I suspect largely managed through the bloated Cabinet Office, which few realise has over 8,000 staff.

One partial exception to the Cbinet Office’s might be the NHS, which has already become its own bloated and centalised bureaucracy. Though the various bosses of that organisation are clearly the creatures of the core government. This ensured that there was never any independent action in hospitals, and that the partially independent GP practices have either been abolished, or brought firmly under NHS brand discipline. And that’s how informed consent for vaccination, for example, could be unilaterally redefined, in despite of established medical ethical principles, as “walking in the door and rolling your sleeve up.” And it is why no GP practices ever dare throw down a gauntlet and insist that their job is going to stay as primary care, not tertiary vaccination.

But the NHS was not the only behemoth grabbing all the decision-making power. I have a friend whose career was to plan County Disaster Responses. His collapse in trust in the government came when, at the start of the pandemic, all the local plans were abolished, central plans handed down, and the council staff were saddled with implementing new strategies unrehearsed and with no local detail.

We already knew, of course, that national pandemic plans, revised as recently as 2019 in line with WHO recommendations, were torn up and redesigned pseudo-scientifically by the government.

When the government decided to launch the ill-fated Moonshot for testing everyone every day with PCR tests, once again it bypassed the established UK screening service, with decades of expertise in both planning and implementing screening, and organised it centrally. It failed practically, but more importantly the whole concept was, and remains, useless in epidemiological terms.

Even something as individual as consituents’ correspondence with MPs was centralised to the Cabinet Office, and many will have received boiler-plate responses to their heartfelt letters, either signed by some Cabinet Office apparatchik, or equally formulaic vanilla replies over the signature of their MP, but with none of his or her personality in evidence.

The press may be intrinsically corrupt nowadays, but when a central organ called OFCOM warns the media to comply with the government official line or else, the corruption is as near-complete as it can be without actual political commissars in every editorial office.

Wherever you look, you find people compliant and afraid because they have received orders from “higher up” on not rocking the boat. And this is, of course, entirely in line with the authoritarian command and control model that makes this pandemic so different, and so many orders of magnitude worse, than the Hong Kong Flu or other episodes, in which professionals and people alike got on with life and quickly overcame the problems.

But to me it appears obvious that to replace so many long-established local mechanisms for dealing with emergencies so quickly, and so comprehensively, might itself be expected to have required long and detailed planning. Remember how quickly the voluminous COVID Bill was drafted and made law, covering every eventuality we’ve seen and more… not effectively, ’tis true, but certainly in as much detail as you’d expect from, say, the CCP or some other longstanding bureaucracy.

Until I’m informed better, I would have to say this militates against the common “reasonable person” line that the government, like everybody else, knew nothing about the virus at the beginning and might be excused for panic measures. This would be more convincing if the measures looked more panicky, and less planned.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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