Covid Inquiry criticised for ignoring study on lockdown harms

Baroness Hallett, the chairman of the inquiry was also criticised for 'ignoring the reality' of the lockdown mental health crisis in April
Baroness Hallett, the chairman of the inquiry was also criticised for 'ignoring the reality' of the lockdown mental health crisis in April - WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE

The Covid Inquiry has been accused of ignoring one of the biggest studies on the harms of lockdowns.

Baroness Heather Hallett, the chairman of the inquiry, has been accused of “stonewalling” and “censorship” after refusing to admit the study to official evidence.

It is the latest row over the direction of the inquiry.

Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister of state, wrote to the chair earlier this year, in his capacity as an MP rather than a minister, asking her to consider taking the study “Did Lockdowns Work?” as evidence.

The study, published in June last year, found lockdowns reduced mortality by just 3.2 per cent compared to places like Sweden.

The study also found they prevented just 1,700 deaths in England and Wales.

Despite announcing an investigation into the impact of the pandemic on the economy this week, the inquiry has refused to officially adduce the study into evidence.

Baroness Hallett has been accused of 'censoring' certain studies as evidence in what was intended to be a comprehensive inquiry
Baroness Hallett has been accused of 'censoring' certain studies as evidence in what was intended to be a comprehensive inquiry - IAN NICHOLSON/AFP

Herby, Jonung, and Hanke, the authors, concluded that voluntary changes in behaviour, such as social distancing, played a significant role in mitigating the pandemic.

They found that harsher restrictions, like stay-at-home rules and school closures, generated high costs but produced only negligible health benefits.

In his letter, Mr Baker said that he was writing to the Inquiry after suggestions by scientists or the Institute and Economic Affairs to include the study was apparently not met.

“I would like to echo their words and support the inclusion of their research by the inquiry.

“Their research piece titled “Did Lockdowns Work?: The verdict on Covid restrictions” is an important systematic review and meta-analysis of numerous lockdown studies to establish the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions,” he wrote.

Ben Connah, the inquiry secretary, said: “The verdict on Covid restrictions and all relevant research in the public domain is automatically in scope for the inquiry and legal counsel may consider selected research findings which directly inform their lines of enquiry.

“They are assisted in this process by the Inquiry Secretariat who identify relevant research and review the reliability of the scientific evidence.”

If evidence is adduced, it must be put before the chair for her to assess and it now means it will only be considered if she or lawyers choose to do so or it is submitted by a core participant.

‘The bottom line is clear’

Prof Steve H Hanke, the founder and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for applied economics, global health, and the study of business enterprise, was one of the report’s authors.

“The inquiry indicated that it already had testimony during Module 2 that covered the topics addressed in our book,” he said.

“There was just one little problem: no members of the inquiry or their staff gave any indication that they had ever read our book.”

The inquiry told Mr Baker that evidence had been provided by a report from Prof Thomas Hale, which addresses many of the issues raised in “Did Lockdowns Work?”.

However, Prof Hanke said that this analysis was “seriously flawed” and focused on studies that “do not answer the question about the effectiveness of lockdowns” whereas his work was the largest peer-reviewed study on the issue.

“All this is rather remarkable. It means that Lady Hallett will not have to read the results of our meta-analysis, since it was never allowed to be put into evidence in what is intended to be a comprehensive inquiry. We are only left with the vague hope that our work might be read by Lady Hallett since it exists in the public domain.

“The bottom line is clear: the inquiry has engaged in bureaucratic stonewalling if not outright censorship.”

‘Zero interest’

Prof Karol Sikora, a leading oncologist and prominent critic of lockdowns, claimed the inquiry had “zero interest” in exploring the harms of lockdowns and feared it had reached predetermined conclusions.

“The Covid Inquiry has shown zero interest in properly examining the harms of lockdown, with a pre-determined conclusion already seemingly set in stone. Hard facts outlining the cost of restrictions are ignored, with scientists more critical of lockdowns treated like criminals.

“The study in question, ‘Did Lockdowns Work?’, presents fair and valid evidence that the inquiry should consider. If they don’t, its reputation will even be further tarnished with the growing percentage of the people who believe that no, lockdowns did not work.”

It is understood that the inquiry disputes the suggestion that witnesses are stonewalled or opinions or perspectives censored and cites the reams of evidence it has published.

A spokesperson for the inquiry said: “The chair of the inquiry, Baroness Hallett, has heard hundreds of hours of testimony from witnesses and experts. Some of this questions the use of lockdowns and other interventions, and some seek to justify their imposition.

“The inquiry makes no assumptions. No conclusions have yet been drawn nor any reports published. As we progress through our investigations, lockdowns and other interventions will be examined in more detail - such as the impact on care homes, on children and young people, and on the economy.”