Neil Ferguson is a famous epidemiologist at the Imperial College, London, whose models were influential in encouraging governments to institute lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Although the Imperial College has reduced the number of projected deaths from COVID-19, Ferguson hasn’t wavered in his advocacy for strict lockdowns.
But not for himself apparently.
An editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal notes:
It appears Mr. Ferguson wasn’t sheltering in place. Or, rather, he was but his paramour, Antonia Staats, wasn’t. The Daily Telegraph reports that Ms. Staats had crossed London at least twice since citywide lockdowns were imposed in March—a clear violation of government rules. He has resigned from his position as government adviser. “I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic,” Mr. Ferguson said. “The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us.”
To err is human, including for epidemiological modelers. But the fact that so many high-ranking officials can’t abide by their own lockdown advice suggests that they ought to be more tolerant of others itching to escape confinement and adapt their orders accordingly.
Ferguson paid a price. He resigned from the U.K.’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
On this side of the pond, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has treated the lockdown as something that just doesn’t apply to hizzoner (here and here). Nor has CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who lectured the rest of us on observing the rules from his home, felt it incumbent upon himself to observe these same rules (here).
And who can begrudge Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is enforcing the Windy City’s particularly strict lockdown aggressively, and could extend the stay-at-home order until well into the summer, a session with her hairdresser? When caught, she explained:
“I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye,” she responded to a reporter. “I take my personal hygiene very seriously. As I said, I felt like I needed to have a haircut. I’m not able to do that myself, so I got a haircut. You want to talk more about that?”
As these examples illustrate, a little more humility and the ability to sympathize with ordinary people would not come amiss.
During the London blitz, King George VI and his family adopted the austerities that ordinary Londoners were experiencing. They adopted the rationing of food and water for their bathtubs.
I’m sure that George VI and his family weren’t going to starve to death or neglect, to invoke Ms. Lightfoot, their personal hygiene. What they did was small and mostly symbolic. But it was the thought that counted.
When elites lecture the rest of us to observe rules that they wouldn’t dream of allowing to impede them, we know what they think of us.
Fortunately, these examples are few, but the condemnation by these sorts of elites of ordinary Americans who are protesting for nothing more than the chance to go back to work and save their families reveals their hearts.
An attempt to portray the protests as racist, aside from being horribly unoriginal, risks letting people know that their worries about survival are not the worries of the elites. Some protesters do deserve criticism (a protest is the last place on earth to take a gun), but when desperate Americans who are observing the rules use civil disobedience to try to tell us of their plight, they must be heard.
Meanwhile, there is some discussion that the time has come for a more targeted response to COVID-19, focusing more on the vulnerable, following the safety guidelines and slowly relaxing restrictions. At any rate, we should all feel some relief that governments did not act on Dr. Ferguson’s 2005 projection that the Bird Flu would cause 200 million deaths.
With a little more humility all around, we could get through this thing.