We have an annoying habit of dismissing things that don’t happen as being of little importance.
The fact that 500,000 people didn’t die of Covid is taken as evidence that Covid was not the catastrophe it was cracked up to be because only 226,000 had the disease put on their death certificates. This would be a fatal mistake.
The Imperial College London study in March, 2020 led by Professor Neil Ferguson, which suggested the 500,000 deaths and prompted Boris Johnson to reluctantly order the first lockdown, is now widely rubbished as scaremongering.
Yet that misses the point. Such modelling is not a prediction but a warning of what could happen if no action is taken. Just because it didn’t come to pass doesn’t make it any less valid.
Which is why Heather Hallett’s Covid inquiry is so crucial. She may not be able to prevent future pandemics but she should be allowed to identify the lessons learned from the last one to minimise the potential disaster from the next.
And the Cabinet Office needs to stop messing about and provide all the material she needs to reach those conclusions.
Just because Covid was not as bad as first feared does not mean that we should not prepare for the worst in future. And the Government should not get in the way of that.
The most famous date in British history is 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. Imagine though, if you will, if the Saxons had won. William the Conqueror would have been known as William the Loser and our language would not be littered with so much French.
No a la carte on restaurant menus – and no restaurants or menus come to that which are also French words.
We would drink our coffee in coffee shops and not cafes and no one could accuse me of writing in cliches. But had the Saxons held a public inquiry after the event it is likely they would have decided to spend more money on sea defences anyway, the kind of sensible precaution after suffering such a heart-stopping near miss.
Other dates seared onto our memories are 9/11 and 7/7. Yet we have complained for years about the airport ritual of bagging up scent, aerosols, creams or gels of 100mls and showing them to security staff before boarding plans because we have forgotten the reason for it.
Yet had the 2006 Liquid Bomb Plot succeeded, hydrogen peroxide explosives in soft drink bottles would have taken out transatlantic planes and killed 10,000 people in the air and on the ground, three times the 9/11 death toll.
Just because it never happened didn’t make the threat of it any less real.
That is where we are with the Covid inquiry. It is not for ministers or civil servants to redact documents and Whats App messages to avoid political embarrassment.
The only material Heather Hallett and her team should not see are genuine national security secrets which have nothing to do with the disease. And she should be informed why they are being left out.
As Labour’s Deputy leader Angela Rayner says: “It is for the Covid inquiry itself rather than Conservative ministers to decide what is and is not relevant material for this investigation, and this interference only serves to undermine the inquiry’s crucial job of getting to the truth.”
She is right. The Government promised total transparency. And Baroness Hallett has a legal right to that under Section 21 of the 2005 Inquiries Act so it only fuels suspicion of an attempted cover-up if she is forced to go to court to get it.
Covid was the worst airborne invasion of this country since the Luftwaffe. We must hope that what was, for most of us, the biggest event of our lives is now well and truly in the dustbin of history.
But we can only be confident that everything is being done to ensure that if the inquiry can go about its business without having its hands tied behind its back.