COVID now accounts for 1% of all deaths, according to the Office of National Statistics. On Tuesday, the UK reported zero Covid deaths, yet we weren’t allowed a moment for celebration.

With hope-deflating predictability, Nicola Sturgeon took the lead by raking over the embers of public anxiety. “We are also dealing with a new, faster-spreading variant…. We must still err on the side of caution.”

Boris Johnson says there’s no evidence to suggest that England's Freedom Day – June 21 – should be delayed. But how long will he stick to this view when a media circus of doom-mongering academics has taken to the airwaves with catastrophising pronouncements?

They want Freedom Day postponed. For a few weeks, they say. But if they get their way we will never see the end of restrictions.

These professor-dictators will soon be baying for an autumn “circuit breaker”, then another Christmas lockdown.

The only thing they will definitely break is our economy, our civil rights, and our mental health.

READ MORE JOANNA: Nicola Sturgeon was wrong to shut our restaurants – and the damage may be irreparable

The fact that variants must now be referred to by letters in the ancient Greek alphabet gives me no comfort.

That alphabet has 24 letters, if we continue to grant these extremist influencers our uncritical trust, they will have us working our way through each and every one until we get to Omega.

Drunk on power, these people issue apocalyptic warnings from a habitat of privilege.

On full pay, working from roomy home offices, with lunch taken in the garden on fine days, the only financial effect they have felt is beneficial.

Imagine the power trip. The world’s newsrooms, the leaders of nations, hang on your every word. Your public profile has never been higher, your ability to attract research grants for your university or lab never greater.

Although they do have a nagging worry. Along with the journalists and politicians who amplify their extreme authoritarian views, they stand to lose professionally if their advice is subsequently judged to be wrong. All the more reason to keep talking up risk and stoking fear.

Unfair? I’d urge you to read journalist's Laura Dodsworth’s eye-opening investigation of how such people have manipulated us in her chilling new book, A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponised Fear during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

HeraldScotland:

I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t resonate with you.

Over the last 15 months, Dodsworth argues, we have been ruled by an iatocracy, a technocratic system of government where medics and scientists are in charge. Measures that have required unprecedented intrusions into our lives and civil liberties have been taken by these unelected advisors who operate a command-and-control model of public decision-making.

We citizens have become subjects of a psychocracy, which uses stealthy psychology warfare and propaganda techniques – ‘psy-ops’ – to ensure our compliance.

She says: “From roadside signs telling us to ‘Stay Alert’, the incessantly doom-laden media commentary, to masks literally keeping the fear in our face, we’ve become afraid of each other.”

Their mission has been to scare us witless about Covid.

“We were captive indoors and although our curtains could open, the days soon blended and we lost sense of time. Extreme emotional manipulation was standard fare from politicians, and through the media. We were denied relationships, dating, to go out to work, to decide the minutiae of our lives – we were infantilised and disempowered”, says Dodsworth.

READ MORE JOANNA: The real reason your GP won't see you now

Through the use of cult-like techniques, we have been emotionally conditioned to fear the outside world and defer to “strong leader” figures touting authoritarian solutions.

Clever operators, the psychocrats have done their job expertly. Many people are now suffering from a new disorder dubbed Covid Anxiety Syndrome. Dodsworth interviews victims, those who have been driven by fear, anxiety, and isolation to develop agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorders, panic attacks, self-harm, and even attempted suicide.

She shines her spotlight on at least 10 departments in the Westminster government that frame our thoughts through behavioural science methods.

These include RICU, the Home Office’s Research, Information, and Communications Unit; Number 10’s Rapid Response Unit; GCHQ; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Counter Disinformation Cell; the 77th Brigade, an army unit that specialises in “non-lethal” forms of psychological warfare; and last but not least, SAGE, and its three sub-teams: New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG); Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M); Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B).

Dodsworth lists examples of how they have put the black arts of behavioural psychology to work. It’s dark stuff. The philosophical proposition that underpins lockdowns and restrictions – that they are a lesser evil for a greater good – is one also used by those who justify torture, she points out.

READ MORE JOANNA: We must never accept another lockdown

Dodsworth asks us to consider whether Biderman’s textbook Chart of Coercion – analysis of how Chinese and Korean interrogators brainwashed prisoners of war – fits our lives over the last 15 months. Its hallmarks include isolation, monopolisation of perception, threats, occasional indulgences, and enforcing trivial demands. Sound familiar?

Many psychologists outside the favoured inner circle believe that the methods used against the population have been unethical, inhumane, and incompatible with democracy because they are designed to deprive us of our ability to think for ourselves.

Dodsworth interviewed Dr Harrie Bunker-Smith, who, being trained in domestic abuse, recognises an abusive relationship when she sees one.

“The British public are in a coercive control relationship with the government”, is her verdict. Fear has been used for social control. We have gone between lockdown (the extreme abuse) and more freedom (the honeymoon period). “Freedom becomes conditional. You wait to be told you are allowed it.”

Bunker-Smith reminds us that most victims of abuse will defend the “relationship”, and get very angry when an assessment of coercive control is put to them because they are not ready to hear it. Instead they have 'learned' to be helpless and depressed.

After reading State of Fear I realise that, like Dodsworth, I’m more frightened of an authoritarian world than Covid. There’s only one way to end a coercive relationship, and that’s to walk out.

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