The United States suffered through two lethal waves of contagion in the past year and a half. The first was a viral pandemic that killed about one in 500 Americans—typically, a person over 75 suffering from other serious conditions. The second, and far more catastrophic, was a moral panic that swept the nation’s guiding institutions.
Instead of keeping calm and carrying on, the American elite flouted the norms of governance, journalism, academic freedom—and, worst of all, science. They misled the public about the origins of the virus and the true risk that it posed. Ignoring their own carefully prepared plans for a pandemic, they claimed unprecedented powers to impose untested strategies, with terrible collateral damage. As evidence of their mistakes mounted, they stifled debate by vilifying dissenters, censoring criticism, and suppressing scientific research.
If, as seems increasingly plausible, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 leaked out of a laboratory in Wuhan, it is the costliest blunder ever committed by scientists. Whatever the pandemic’s origin, the response to it is the worst mistake in the history of the public-health profession. We still have no convincing evidence that the lockdowns saved lives, but lots of evidence that they have already cost lives and will prove deadlier in the long run than the virus itself.