A Brexiteer has been schooled by a public health expert after he branded the coronavirus lockdown ‘project fear’.
Businessman Luke Johnson appeared on Question Time with transport union boss Mick Cash, Labour MP Bridget Phillipson, former Brexit minister Steve Barclay and Scottish public health expert Devi Sridhar when he caused controversy by labelling the government’s coronavirus messaging as ‘scaremongering’.
The Pizza Express founder told host Fiona Bruce: ‘I tell you what disappointed me the most about the prime minister’s speech on Sunday – which I do think was vague and which I wasn’t really listening to the message – is that he repeated the line… that we’ve avoided half a million deaths.
‘I don’t think this country was ever facing half a million deaths. I think that was a ludicrous exaggeration and it was scaremongering.’
The Brexiteer earlier labelled the lockdown as ‘project fear’, alleging that fewer than ‘350’ people under 60 without morbidities had died from Covid-19. He then pointed to Sweden’s containment policy, which did not involve a clampdown, saying the country had ‘done alright’ with its coronavirus death rate.
He argued that pursing a lockdown would lead to more deaths.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we have two million more unemployed people within the year,’ he said referring to the economic impact of a sustain clampdown.
‘Imagine the agony of two million more people. How many deaths might flow from that?’
Sridhar, who has been advising the Scottish government on the virus, disagreed with Johnson’s attempts to pit the economy up against public health.
She told the panel: ‘We keep putting the economy versus public health and I think that’s a mistake.
‘These are both on the same side. Containment and public health is good for the economy.’
She said countries that took ‘drastic’ containment measures from out offset were now able to open up their societies again.
Concerning the UK’s case, she said: ‘We’ve had 60,000 estimated deaths, we are probably 10% of our way through this if we think we reach some kind of immunity at 80%
‘We basically have to lose eight times that amount. Actually, the figures are slightly lower than what’s estimated but are still incredibly high.
‘We would lose a lot of people if we took that strategy [of reopening the economy] rather than trying to suppress the outbreak, wait for a therapeutic, wait for a vaccine.’
She also stressed that Sweden’s death toll was ‘one of the highest death rates per million in the world and far higher than neighbouring countries’.
Viewers reacted with concern at Johnson’s comments while praising the expert.
A user by the name of Fauxcanard slammed Johnson’s comments on Twitter: ‘Unemployment will cause deaths says the man who supported Brexit and accepts a no deal which will bring about a ranked economy and unemployment. He doesn’t like the lockdown. The collateral damage doesn’t really phase him.’
Young Labour supporter Umaar Kazmi said: ‘This is irresponsible and a lie. I will listen to doctors and health experts, not a venture capitalist who, it would seem, simply wants to make money regardless of the tragic human cost.’
Another argued people, regardless of age, were all worth protecting from the virus: ‘They aren’t a bargaining chip whose lives you trade so you can start to benefit from your private interests again.’
Responding to Sridhar’s advice not to emulate Sweden’s approach, @feblevstudios said: ‘Yes, she is talking sense to idiots. If we were to follow the example she suggests, fewer people would die, the outbreak would be contained and we be able to come out lockdown sooner.’
Bjorn wrote: ‘Devi should be the health secretary. In fact, I would put money on it that if she had been health secretary since the turn of the year, we may have seen a more competent and cohesive response to the crisis.’