You could hardly imagine a scenario more conducive to temperance. For large parts of the year, pubs and bars have been shut, people confined to their homes, and millions are now living under a 10pm curfew. So, many common drinking cues – social pressure, advertising or the return home after a long commute – were removed. Alcohol consumption has duly fallen, according to data from Nielsen Scantrack. Britain bought more booze in supermarkets, but less in bars. From March to June, we downed 1.3 billion litres, versus 2 billion in the same period last year. Despite these sobering figures, this week has brought non-stop doom and gloom from would-be prohibitionists.
On Monday, Baroness Finlay, who chairs a lobbying outfit called the Commission on Alcohol Harm, warned about alcohol on World At One. “We cannot ignore it,” she declared, listing victims, like “children who are bereaved or seriously injured and maimed”, “children in the womb”, “innocent bystanders” and “society”.
Asked why we drink, she theorised: “If you buy a birthday card, it will have jokes about drinking too much as if that’s the thing to do without recognising that your getting drunk could kill somebody.” The solution, she claimed, was to have discussions in which we were “not judgmental” about others’ alcohol use. At least she realises the first step to resolving your own hypocrisy is to admit you have a problem. The next day, papers were filled with warnings from the Royal College of Physicians that risky binge drinking is “soaring” due to lockdown. The day after, it emerged that authorities plan to note on a baby’s medical file if a mother admits to having had a drink once during her pregnancy.
How can one square this sense of panic with plunging sales data? A closer look at the figures by Christopher Snowdon at the Institute of Economic Affairs reveals a subtler picture.
The main effect of lockdown was to reduce alcohol consumption for almost everyone, except among those already drinking more than double the recommended weekly amount. In this group, consumption significantly increased. In other words, people with an existing tendency to drink too much drank more. This is still a problem, but it is not a scourge taking over society, and requires more than imperious assertions from a baroness to justify policies that make booze more expensive for everyone.
The Chinese virologist who blew the whistle on Covid is not finished yet
Family, culture, sex, mental health and a bit of politics are the usual Loose Women fare. So I was surprised to find myself watching the show when I searched for an exclusive interview with the Chinese virologist and whistle-blower Li-Meng Yan. Dr Yan fled Hong Kong for the United States in April after she was told she was in danger of being “disappeared” by the Communist Party for trying to prevent a Covid-19 cover-up in December. Since then, she has only spoken once, to the US’s Fox News.
Loose Women secured a 10-minute spot with Dr Yan, in which she related how her mainland Chinese contacts had told her Covid could be transmitted between humans in late 2019, weeks before the Chinese admitted it. She pushed for her laboratory supervisor at the University of Hong Kong to get the news out, but he warned her not to cross the party’s “red lines”. Dr Yan, however, must be a person of exceptional moral fibre, because she leaked the information to an overseas blogger, adding to the pressure on Beijing to admit the truth. (The university and Chinese government have denied her claims).
Nor is she keeping a low profile now. This week, she published a scientific paper arguing that the virus must have been made in a lab because of several features of its genome. The paper is rather hard for a layman to evaluate but it isn’t the only one of its kind. Similar arguments have been made by a pair of scientists at MIT and the University of British Columbia, as well as by Nikolai Petrovsky, a researcher at Flinders University in Australia. This may be a small minority of scientists, but it’s surely enough to mean we ought to drop the word “conspiracy” from descriptions of the Wuhan lab theory.
Rule of Six
A certain kind of class warrior was up in arms over the Government’s decision to exempt shooting from the “rule of six”. I’ve never felt a strong urge to shoot things myself but, on logical grounds, I found the row perplexing. The six-person rule contained an exception for organised sports. Why, then, is it acceptable for 20 or 30 people to convene to kick a ball but outrageous if they decide to wear tweed and stand in a muddy field shooting things?
The answer, of course, is that you should never look for logic in a question of pure class angst.