19 September 2020: People gather in Trafalgar Square during a protest against the mandatory use of face masks, the Coronavirus vaccine and the social distancing restrictions.

‘Instant history’ chronicles pandemic events amid political muddy waters

Public health and the economy should go ‘hand in glove’, says John Ashton in new book
15 October 2020 , Katie Coyne

COVID-19 scepticism has been allowed to flourish due to the UK government’s deliberate muddying of the waters to avoid blame, says a public health expert and author of a new book on the pandemic.

John Ashton, a former director of public health and former president of the Faculty of Public Health, has been outspoken in his criticism of the UK government’s handling of the pandemic.

But Blinded by Corona, which came out on Monday (12 October), also outlines a way forward. Ashton believes there may be an inquiry into the mishandling of the pandemic and that his book could be used as evidence.

“I hope that this book can be used in that way - that it'll become a reference by the people who were involved in the enquiry because I tried to chronicle in time and so on, all the events that happened over that first six months until July. And to pull out all of the mistakes that were made and then to try and point at some of the solutions. It really was intended to be instant history.”

He added: “It was quite clear to me early on that there was going to be a real fight over the narrative of what had happened afterwards. So it was really important to chronicle the actual events, so they could be the basis of the enquiry.”

Ashton said the UK government’s deliberate attempt to confuse the public has given space for COVID-sceptic theories to gain oxygen. The Great Barrington Declaration, for example, argues for governments around the world to take a herd immunity approach. The Lancet today (15 October) published an open letter condemning that approach as “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence”.

Ashton added: “They have deliberately muddied the waters so that the finger of blame could not be pointed at them. The battle for the narrative is now what's happening this week - about whose fault it is, who's to blame, and whether public health is more important or the economy's more important - when actually, they have to go hand in glove.”

While the government said it was taking a scientific approach, Ashton refutes this claim. He added: “Although from the outset they were saying they were following the science. In fact, that was a charade, because the handling has been very political.

“They've been working with the political campaign advisers that advised them during the general election last winter - they brought them over from Australia to advise them on this. That's where all the slogans came from.”

• Blinded by Corona: how the pandemic ruined Britain’s health and wealth is published by Gibson Square Books.

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