Coronavirus: Van Morrison lockdown protest songs 'dangerous'

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Sir Van claims scientists are "making up crooked facts" to justify measures that "enslave" the population

Northern Ireland's health minister has described three new songs by Sir Van Morrison that protest against coronavirus lockdowns as "dangerous".

In the lyrics, Sir Van claims scientists are "making up crooked facts" to justify measures that "enslave" the population.

"The new normal, is not normal," he sings. "We were born to be free".

Health Minister Robin Swann said if Sir Van had scientific facts he should present them.

Van Morrison song alludes to debunked conspiracy theory

By Olga Robinson, BBC Monitoring disinformation team

Sir Van Morrison refers to a debunked Covid-19 conspiracy theory in one of his new anti-lockdown songs.

The track As I Walked Out includes the lyrics: "Well on the government website from the 21 March 2020 / It said COVID-19 was no longer high risk".

It's a reference to a UK government page that stated "Covid-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) in the UK".

That much is true - but that doesn't mean that coronavirus is harmless.

The HCID designation is given for very fatal diseases: for example Ebola, which kills more than 50% of infected people.

Covid-19 was initially classified as HCID in January - when little was known about it.

By March, more information and testing prompted authorities to revise the classification.

It's now thought the Covid-19 fatality rate is closer to 1%. The danger, scientists say, is that it is also highly infectious, and there is no proven vaccine or treatment.

The government message was widely shared on social media, largely by coronavirus denialists and opponents of restrictions, who have cited it as "evidence" that the lockdown was based on a "hoax".

Mr Swann said: "I don't know where he gets his facts. I know where the emotions are on this, but I will say that sort of messaging is dangerous.

"Our messaging is about saving lives.

"If Van wanted to sing a song about saving lives, then that would be more in keeping with where we are at the minute."

He added: "If Van Morrison has counter-scientific facts that he's prepared to stand over, and have that debate with the chief scientific adviser, then I think that's how he should do it."

Image source, PAcemaker
Image caption,
Health Minister Robin Swann said Sir Van should sing about saving lives

Mr Swann has warned that Northern Ireland could again face tighter restrictions if new cases of Covid-19 continue to rise.

Niall Murphy, a prominent solicitor who was critically ill with Covid-19, described the songs as "offensive and dangerous".

"I had a ventilator placed down my gullet while I was in an induced coma for 14 days, and the same time in recovery, and then in and out of intensive care and I would not want anybody to experience that," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme.

"This very serious solemn public health message is being sullied by someone who should know better."

Sean McGovern, a consultant in emergency medicine, said that figures showed that Covid-19 is the second most common cause of death in Northern Ireland, behind only cancer.

He added that it was "wrong to use celebrity status to dilute the message and create problems".

Belfast city councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown, of the Alliance Party, said he has asked the council to consider revoking Sir Van's freedom of Belfast over the songs.

However, DUP MP Sammy Wilson has defended Sir Van and said he was "raising an important point".

"It's a debate which has been going on for a long, long time, that we do ask the kind of questions that he has asked in these songs - how much of our freedom do we give to the government and how much should the government rely on us to use our common sense?"

'Pseudoscience' controversy

Sir Van recorded the three songs recently in Belfast and England.

No More Lockdown is the most strident of the three tracks. "No more lockdown / No more government overreach," the musician sings in the chorus. "No more fascist bullies / Disturbing our peace.

"No more taking of our freedom / And our God given rights / Pretending it's for our safety / When it's really to enslave."

Sir Van has previously caused controversy by denouncing what he called the "pseudoscience" around coronavirus.

Launching a campaign to "save live music" on his website last month, the 75-year-old said socially-distanced gigs were not economically viable.

"I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudoscience and speak up."

Sir Van said his new songs would be released at two-week intervals with the first, Born To Be Free, arriving on 25 September.

In a statement announcing the songs, the musician said: "I'm not telling people what to do or think, the government is doing a great job of that already.

Image caption,
Sir Van said his new songs would be released at two-week intervals

"It's about freedom of choice, I believe people should have the right to think for themselves."

However, Mr Swann urged people to "listen to the health advice coming from the professionals - the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.

"They are the people who see the dangers.

"I know whose message I would rather listen to, that's the message of the professional, Dr Michael McBride and Professor Ian Young."

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