Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Covid’s back. Don’t panic!

How terrified should we be of the new Covid variant nicknamed (on Twitter) ‘Pirola’? Out of our wits? Or should we be more worried that BA.2.86, to give it its official name, is acting as a stalking horse for those who want our country locked down once again and a clamp placed securely over our jaws?

The government has brought forward its booster-jab rollout for the over-65s in response to this new variant, which has so far afflicted slightly more than 100 people worldwide and caused no deaths. This action was not enough for many, though. The Lib Dems’ science spokesman, Layla Moran – a fairly convincing Velma to Ed Davey’s even more convincing Scooby-Doo – has demanded that the vaccine be available for 50- to 64-year-olds and purchasable over the counter in chemists for everybody else. The Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Shona Robison, has refused to rule out lockdown and the compulsory masking up of Scottish people if they dare to venture out of their homes. A number of schools in the USA have re-introduced the masking of pupils, presumably unimpressed by various recent studies which suggest that masks are very close to being of not the slightest defence whatsoever against the transmission of the virus.

I fear that some of our scientists have fetishised Covid and become a little deranged by it

The Guardian rolled out a whole bunch of scientists, largely virologists, to demand more vaccinations and a return to regular testing and isolation for those afflicted. And here’s Professor Rowland Kao, a professor of veterinary epidemiology at Edinburgh University, as quoted by the BBC: ‘If you find you have symptoms, you should be isolating if you can. If you can, get a lateral flow test, and I would like to see lateral flow tests become freely available again because a lot of the people who would be taking them can’t afford them. I know nothing is cheap, but a lot can be done by getting more data from people.’

The worry about BA.2.86 (henceforth Pirola) is that it has many interesting mutations – more than 30 so far identified – and because these are early days in the spread of this variant, there are no official figures for either how transmissible it might be or how lethal. The Covid tracking centre Gisaid says that there have been 109 cases across 15 countries. We top the charts with 40, and much of the angst here was centred around one care home in Norfolk, Shipdham Manor, near Thetford, where the media reported that 34 cases had occurred and either one or two of the residents (depending on what papers you read) were hospitalised in consequence.

The actual figures, as provided by the UK Health Security Agency, are a little different: 28 people at the home tested positive for Pirola – 22 residents and six members of staff. This may even be an underestimate, as the testing procedure is not always precise.

I spoke to Healthcare Homes, the group which runs Shipdham Manor, and they told me that the residents were all aged over 65, with many in their eighties and nineties. Many suffer from dementia. All are living with one or many injurious conditions, aside from old age, which is why they’re in a care home that specialises in medical conditions. Nobody was hospitalised as a consequence of Pirola, contrary to the press reports. One resident who tested positive did attend hospital for reasons completely unrelated to the virus, and is now back at the home. Others displayed no symptoms whatsoever and of those who did, all recovered ‘within two or three days’ of what would otherwise be categorised as a mild cold.

Now, I suppose one might argue that the outbreak at Shipdham Manor provides us with insufficient grounds for dismissing Pirola out of hand as being, as one US scientist put it, a ‘real nothingburger’. But by the same token it provides even thinner ground for the epidemiologists, the computer modellers and the lefties to start shrieking and tearing their hair out.

Here was the virus in action. Short of taking up residence in a hospice or an ICU, it couldn’t have chosen a more frail and vulnerable section of our population to afflict. And yet nobody was ill for more than three days and all recovered entirely. I would thus ask Dr Kao why we should bother testing at all for an illness so utterly benevolent that a substantial proportion of very elderly people are not even aware they have it?

I fear some of our scientists have fetishised Covid and become a little deranged by it. I think it is also true that scientists see only the science, which is reasonable enough – and more to the point, only the science based on data which has already been published. And so they call for more vaccinations, knowing that vaccines have some sort of efficacy in protecting against the worst effects of earlier variants, but without the full knowledge of what damage to the body repeated vaccinations might occasion – because we do not have the data on that yet.

And why is the left so perpetually frit? I do not buy the right-wing conspiracy argument that this is all an attempt to keep us locked up in perpetuity under a one world government run by lizards or the World Health Organisation. But the left does, nonetheless, like the idea of exerting control. It does not trust ordinary people to make decisions for themselves. It rather looks down upon them, perhaps in a kindly, condescending manner – and it likes wielding the hand of the big state. Let us hope our government takes no notice of them, or of the scientists who are incapable of seeing beyond their particular discipline.

Incidentally, if you’re on holiday in northern Spain, don’t go jabbering about Pirola to the locals. The word means ‘todger’ in Galician. Tell them you’ve got it and they’ll just look at you oddly.