It has been a while since I have written anything directly on the current COVID-induced nightmare, if only because we are all saturated with plenty of it from other sources, and much of what I could write has been written better elsewhere. But with the recent announcements that vaccination will be made mandatory for care home staff, and that proof of vaccination will be required to enter a nightclub and other “large gatherings” in the autumn, I thought I would try to arrest any despair this may have induced with a few words of optimism.
Of course, any such optimism is for the long term rather than for the short. It would be foolish to deny that the near future is going to be very a difficult one for a great many people, even if some semblance of liberty ends up prevailing in the end. Indeed, if I had to summarise the change in my own attitude that has taken place in the last eighteen months, it is from having previously regarded the British government as something of a nuisance to now being actively fearful of the kind of life that it will be able to impose upon us. We do not have the option of drowning ourselves in the false hope that it will all just go away. We do, though, have the tools of Austrian economics and libertarian theory to help us better understand what is going on – and it is understanding that is the first step towards overcoming fear.
There are nine kinds of “lockdown” measures against the COVID-19 virus, which have been implemented in many countries of the world. They are: school closures, workplace closures, public events cancellation, restrictions on gatherings, public transport closures, stay-at-home restrictions, national travel restrictions, international travel restrictions and face covering mandates. What the chart shows is an average of an average. It is the average, over the nine measures, of the proportion of days over the course of the COVID epidemic since January 2020, that there has been in place a full restriction. And the chart shows this average for 14 countries in Western Europe, including the UK.
By a full restriction, I mean: all schools closed, all “non-essential” workplaces closed, all public events cancelled, gatherings restricted to 10 people or less, public transport closed, forced stay at home with only minimal exceptions, mandatory restrictions in place on internal travel, border closure, or face covering required at all times when outside the home. These are the restrictions which the Blavatnik School of Government, based at Oxford University, regard as constituting 100% lockdown in their respective spheres. And who am I to disagree with them – since I’m choosing to use their data?
Look at those Irish go! Or not, of course. An average of almost three out of nine fundamental freedoms totally denied them, over the course of more than a year? And the UK isn’t much less bad.
I’ve been looking, for a few weeks now, for hard evidence that the COVID vaccines being rolled out in various countries are having an effect, or not as the case may be. I think there is probably enough data now to do at least a preliminary assessment. So, here goes.
The data I used for this report, both from Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, was taken on April 1st, and ran up to March 31st.
In recent weeks, I have been developing the “magic spreadsheets” which help me to follow the statistics of the COVID epidemic, with the aim of significantly increasing the number of countries I am able to look at. This is the first report based on the new technology. It covers the whole of Europe, a total of 46 countries divided into four groups. Here are the groups:
Rest of Western Europe
Eastern Europe (North)
Eastern Europe (South)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
I’ll end this essay with an assessment of the UK’s performance against the virus to date. I think it’s fair to say that to call my assessment “scathing” would be an understatement.
Until now, all the reports I have done on the COVID-19 virus have been at a national and international level, comparing different countries’ performances against the virus. Today, I’m going to focus on new COVID cases reported over the past few months. And, particularly, on a small swathe of South-East England around my home.
It is difficult not to feel despondent when considering the enormous loss of liberty that has been inflicted by government lockdown policies in response to COVID-19. This despair has been compounded for many on the right by the final failure of Donald Trump’s attempt to challenge November’s presidential election result, together with the sudden, panicked attempt to remove him from office just days before his term expires, as well as the purging of him and prominent cheerleaders from social media. In this vein, the following quotations – all from prominent libertarians or conservative-libertarians – are not unrepresentative:
“2021 is going to be worse than 2020. Sorry”
“You ain’t seen nothing yet: the worst is yet to come”
“The lockdown is permanent, get used to it. It is all about political control. NOBODY HEALTHY IS DYING.”
It is true that any opponents of lockdown policies need to have a realistic grasp of why these draconian policies have been resorted to and how the situation is likely to pan out. Indeed, enough is now known about COVID-19 for us to be well past the point of lending the state the benefit of the doubt in its decision to continue with those policies. Thus, explanations other than the protection of health must be sought.
Nevertheless, the amount of time spent despairing is beginning to come at the expense of time that could be spent working out how to fight back. Happily, Sean Gabb has helped to buck the trend by offering some reasons as to why the past year has not been all that bad. While Gabb acknowledges that his personal circumstances have contributed much to his relatively sanguine view, it is, nevertheless, a refreshing counterbalance to the torrent of doomerism that seems to be erupting from the right. Continue reading →
This is an update to my paper of December 3rd on tracking the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen Western European countries. It uses the data up to and including December 31st 2020. The data sources are the same as before: Our World in Data and the Blavatnik School of Government, both at Oxford University.
The main news this month, apart from seemingly never-ending lockdowns and the ghost of Christmas passed, has been the new, supposedly more easily transmissible strain of the virus, discovered in the UK. Initially, I was a bit skeptical. But as you can see in the graph at the top, the UK (pink line) does indeed have a climbing trend in new daily cases, which over the whole of December is very different from the trends in the other countries. So, I think we can fairly say that there is indeed a new, more transmissible strain, in the UK and perhaps some other countries.