Guided by Science

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Deaths from Covid-19 in the UK are (or are about to be) more numerous than anywhere else in Europe. They’re exceeded only in the USA.

We must be wary of international comparisons. It’s far from certain that we’re comparing like with like. Every country records deaths diferently, but, even so, this is an appalling eventuality given that the UK had time to witness the overwhelming of Italy’s and Spain’s health systems, and to understand that deaths in Italy and Spain were far in excess of seasonal averages. Covid-19 was no mere ‘sniffle’ by March. There was time, too, to observe other countries imposing rigorous lockdowns, such as here in the Czech Republic, where I live.

‘We have been guided by the science throughout,’ government ministers mumble defensively, as if a mere mantra can excuse their own culpability.

Science doesn’t guide.

Word usage may be debated, but, to my mind, science ‘informs’. It is politically neutral. After all, if science (or, rather, scientists) were ‘guiding’ our response to global warming we might have done more by now to avert catastrophe. Decisions on carbon emissions and other mitigations are political ones, as is the question of how many deaths and how much suffering can be tolerated for the sake of freedom and prosperity during a pandemic.

Governments choose how to be ‘guided by science’. Consider Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq, another reprehensible decision IMHO. He chose to ignore the ‘science’ (the findings of weapons inspectors that Iraq probably had no useful weapons of mass destruction), choosing instead to be ‘guided’ by evangelism and a taste for the top table.

It’s strenuously denied, though crystal clear to most of us, that the UK government changed tack on ‘lockdown’ when it was informed that several hundred thousand might otherwise die, and that the NHS would be overwhelmed. But it was already clear, based on Italy’s and Spain’s examples, what would happen if no restrictions were placed on our liberties. Lockdown was already the prudent course, the obvious political decision, whatever the science. And whether the science changed or not, science doesn’t absolve government of its responsibility to act rapidly and prudently. It, alone, is responsible for a delay that has caused thousands to lose their lives (around ten years lost, on average). It has blood on its hands.

Here in the Czech Republic daily new case numbers are now fewer than 70. Lockdown is being relaxed in stages, very carefully. The whole country is an epidemiological experiment. Life won’t return to normal for many months, but economic activity of many kinds can resume.

That will eventually be the case in the UK, but, guided by science, the government will have allowed thousands to die unnecessarily in the process.