Academics Raise Concerns About UK Covid-19 Inquiry


Over 50 prominent UK academics have signed an open letter to Baroness Heather Hallett, chair of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, calling for urgent action to address the shortcomings of the probe so far. The signatories of the letter say the Hallett Inquiry suffers from bias, false assumptions, and a lack of impartiality.

“The Covid Inquiry is not living up to its mission to evaluate the mistakes made during the pandemic, whether Covid measures were appropriate, and to prepare the country for the next pandemic,” they write.

Kevin Bardosh, lead signatory and Director of Collateral Global has been following the Inquiry closely. He’s concerned it has focused too much on “who said what and when,” rather than homing in on key scientific questions about the evidence (or lack thereof) underpinning policy decisions.

Prof Kevin Bardosh, Director of Collateral Global. Photo credit: Shutterstock

“The Inquiry was pre-designed on the assumption that the government ‘didn’t do enough’ to protect people during the pandemic,” says Bardosh. “But the thing about the pandemic is that more measures, didn’t mean more lives saved. It’s a paradoxical aspect of health policy that more doesn’t necessarily mean better.”

Bardosh, who is affiliated with University of Edinburgh Medical School, says because the Inquiry’s starting position is that non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g. masks) and lockdowns were necessary and effective, it’s not actually interrogating the trade-offs of these policies.

“If you go back to pre-Covid, policies like lockdowns, extended school closures, and contact tracing for a respiratory virus, were not the ‘scientific consensus’ for how to respond rationally to a pandemic,” he says. “In fact, the reverse was true. The goal was to minimise the disruption to society because it would have all these short and long-term unintended consequences.”

In December 2023, when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was questioned at the Inquiry, he admitted the UK government had failed to discuss the costs and benefits of pandemic policies. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunk questioned at UK Covid Inquiry

Sunak pointed to a peer-reviewed report by Imperial College London and the University of Manchester that applied a Quality-Adjusted Life Year analysis to the first lockdown in the UK and found “for every permutation of lives saved and GDP lost, the costs of lockdown exceed the benefits.” [emphasis added]

Bardosh has also called out the Inquiry for its double standards in scrutinising experts.

Take for example, Neil Ferguson, professor at Imperial College and former SAGE member. He was the architect behind lockdowns after his March 2020 models warned that 500,000 Brits would die unless tougher restrictions were put in place to curb spread of the virus.

Bardosh says, “The Inquiry hasn’t really questioned Ferguson’s mathematical model in any substantial way. But if you compare that to the questioning of Professor Carl Heneghan, who’s based out of Oxford, it was very confrontational, and they used provocative language to suggest he didn’t have expertise in this area.”

Heneghan, the director of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, was among 32 senior UK academics who urged then-Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to think twice about plunging Britain into a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020.

It was revealed during evidence to the Inquiry, that the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Dame Angela McLean, called Heneghan a “fuckwit” on a WhatsApp chat during a September 2020 Government meeting for his dissenting views on lockdowns.

Prof Carl Heneghan, director of Centre of Evidence-Based Medicine, Oxford

Later, Heneghan penned a scathing article in The Spectator, calling the Inquiry a “farce – a spectacle of hysteria, name-calling and trivialities.”

“Lockdown was the most disruptive policy in British peacetime history, with huge ramifications for our health, children’s education and the economy,” wrote Heneghan. 

“This is an opportunity for the inquiry to gather evidence and ask whether lockdown and other interventions actually worked…Instead we have a KC [King’s Counsel] who seems uninterested in substance and obsessed with reading out rude words he has found in other people’s private messages.”

Bardosh and the other signatories have also raised concerns about the structure of the scientific advisory groups in the Inquiry, which have omitted key experts in child development, schooling impacts, social, and economic policy.

“The Inquiry must invite a much broader range of scientific experts with more critical viewpoints. It must also review the evidence on diverse topics so that it can be fully informed of relevant science and the economic and social cost of Covid policies to British society,” write the signatories.

So far, Bardosh is unimpressed with the ‘political theatre’ of the Inquiry, but hopes Baroness Hallett will urgently address its shortcomings to avoid compromising the credibility of future public inquiries.

“Not having an inquiry that really asks those questions is very damaging to the idea of accountability. We need to hold to account the policy decisions that were made because if we don’t, the next time there’s a public health emergency, these measures will come back into place whether or not they actually work,” says Bardosh.

The Hallett Inquiry is slated to run until 2026 and is reported to be one of the largest public inquiries in UK history. The cost of the UK government’s Covid measures are estimated to be between £310bn and £410bn.

Republished from the author’s Substack

  • Maryanne Demasi, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, is an investigative medical reporter with a PhD in rheumatology, who writes for online media and top tiered medical journals. For over a decade, she produced TV documentaries for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and has worked as a speechwriter and political advisor for the South Australian Science Minister.

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