Neil O’ Brien, Tory MP for Harborough and vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, has suggested, “Covid sceptics have a hell of a lot to answer for”. Mr O’Brien is a rare right-wing voice calling out the Covid and lockdown deniers who have undermined the national pandemic response. Some, Piers Corbyn for example, are so cartoonish and deluded that they are difficult to take seriously. Mr Corbyn confirms Richard Dawkins’ opinion that, “a delusion is something people believe in, despite a total lack of evidence”. Mr Corbyn’s lack of a public platform, furth of Speakers’ Corner, renders him relatively harmless. Others however, with access to more public soapboxes, have greater culpability.

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Responsibility and common sense are not “must haves” on the CVs of prospective MPs. The Brexit-favouring European Research Group (ERG), constituted an idiocracy of eccentrics. Its leading members have morphed effortlessly into the equally deranged Covid Recovery Group (CRG). One such, Sir Desmond Swayne, has called for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, to be dismissed. The same Chris Whitty who, as a volunteer, treated Covid patients over Christmas. For good measure, Sir Desmond attacked anti-Covid measures as “pettifogging malice”. Even the clinical director of his constituency GP practices condemned his comments and criticisms as “demoralising”. Listening to Sir Desmond for even a few minutes, makes one suspect he’s part of a Care in the Community initiative that’s gone badly wrong. Every utterance from his fellow CRG members substantiate Napoleon’s dictum, “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap”. There are others however, who are considerably more dangerous. Particularly those who seek to influence opinion and action through social media and the right-wing press.

The Lockdown Sceptics’ website for example, features the mocking banner, “Stay Sceptical, Control the Hysteria, Save Lives”. The ignorance and arrogance of actor Laurence Fox who posted a photo sporting a fake mask exemption badge was breath-taking. Right-wing commentator Toby Young belatedly and grudgingly apologised for his contention there would be no second wave and the common cold delivered immunity. Alison Pearson in The Telegraph confidently predicted the “Coronabeast” would be gone by September, lockdown or no lockdown. Evidence that tough measures had worked in Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia were routinely trashed. Libertarian Sweden was their go to example. Strangely, Sweden no longer features, possibly due to its hospitals being overwhelmed and plans to send Stockholm’s overspill to Finland. Last month, Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf put it in a nutshell, “It’s simply, I think we have failed”.

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My family has experienced the reach of the deniers. We were sent, presumably approvingly, a YouTube video made by commentator and provocateur Katie Hopkins. Ms Hopkins, posturing in front of a Union flag, claims that until that point, “only” 388 people under 60 had died from Covid. Presumably, the tens of thousands of over 60s didn’t count, as they were old and sick and a bit of a burden. According to Ms Hopkins, the NHS was under pressure because 76,200 staff had “failed to turn up”; implying many were shirking. Ms Hopkins has the sensitivity of an anvil and news reports of NHS staff out on their feet with tiredness must have passed her by.

The Covid and lockdown deniers’ views are delusional, harmful but unfortunately, also influential. Thanks to them, sensible compliance has been undermined and people have died. They see themselves as self-appointed guardians of civil liberties and freedom of speech. Yes, both are important, but so is the accompanying responsibility not to harm others.

When we are finally free of scourge of the pandemic, one hopes the Covid and lockdown deniers will reflect and repent. In any event, they should be held to account. As writer Jim Hines put it, “Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid s**t.”

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.