Over the last 7 weeks absolute adherence to the scientific advice of how to tackle Coronavirus has become a bit of a sacred cow which cannot be challenged. The mantra was ‘Stay Home – Protect the NHS – Save Lives’ was it not? Most certainly it featured prominent at the top of the speaking stands on each daily briefing. But the NHS seems to be able to cope now and even the Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre is being mothballed.
So, is our faith in Lockdown right? Here I link back and wish to extend the arguments I used yesterday. The theory is that us all being stuck at home has flattened the infection rate curve. Lockdown is responsible for this and thus must stay in place. Today I want to look at the arguments that it is not.
Dr John Lee, in a Spectator piece, disputes that logic and suggests that the case for starting to reverse lockdown quickly is compelling. He made ten arguments in support of that view. I will paraphrase them:
- The British mortality toll last night was assessed as being 33,998 deaths. But those figures are not that much greater than deaths from other respiratory infections such as influenza. In 2014/15 the 28,330 people had influenza on the death certificate. That’s not so far away from deaths resulting from Coronavirus. Most cases of Coronavirus are asymptomatic and many people do not even notice they are ill. Around 99.9 per cent of people who catch Coronavirus recover.
- We have had very poor data on Coronavirus and much of it has been plain wrong. To start with quoted data suggested that 80 per cent of us would get Coronavirus but a figure of some 15 per cent is now reckoned much closer to the mark. Even the so-called R figure is calculated on dodgy data. So, if the data that committed us to lockdown is now considered a bit suspect shouldn’t its potency in the argument to keep us inside be diluted?
- We really don’t know if lockdown is working. Neighbouring countries each have a slightly different way of tackling Coronavirus and their so-called infection curves are not dissimilar to our own. Sweden’s approach is far lighter than our own with restaurants still open and voluntary social distancing. Yet it seems to have better results than we do.
- The economic and other health costs of lockdown are enormous. I will not expand here but the quality of life of huge swathes of the population whose lives are little threatened has been massively disrupted.
- We have to ease out of lockdown at some stage but Coronavirus is here to stay. We will have to live with it. We may have slowed its spread over the last 7 weeks but it can afford to wait. Over millions of years our bodies have evolved to cope with viral threats and they will have to do so again. The sooner we get back to normal the quicker that natural counter-balance will kick in.
- Coronavirus affects mainly the elderly and those with pe-existing medical conditions but most of this group, when infected, recover. There are 10,832,396 people aged over 65 in England and Wales. Even if we assume 50,000 deaths from COVID-19 in this spike, and all occurring in this age group, the probability of death is less than 1 in 200. On the other side of the argument is it not sad that the elderly are deprived of things that make life worth living such as seeing children, grandchildren, and friends; eating out, hobbies, charity work and indeed travelling? They are denied doing all the things that they have worked so hard to enjoy in retirement and now cannot.
- The majority of people under 70, and almost everyone under 50, will be no more inconvenienced by this disease than by a cold. They are being asked to make huge sacrifices for something that will not affect them. This group includes the people who are the most productive part of our society and whose efforts support everyone else, including those who are ill. Why is removing them from activity a sensible thing to do?
- I have raised already the point that the NHS has adapted quickly to the crisis. It has not been overwhelmed or got even close to it. At the same time the priority given to Coronavirus victims has made other illnesses second class which will also, undoubtedly cause deaths.
- In future, the Coronavirus will come into equilibrium with the population as wider immunity combines with predominantly milder forms of the virus to cause a lower overall death rate that will fluctuate from year to year, much like flu.
- Seven weeks of lockdown now have shown that the public can act sensibly. I cannot see many non-family people greeting each other with a kiss, a handshake or indeed a hug for the foreseeable future. We were quite right to go into lockdown but people now get it and need to know the risks so that they can take their own decisions.
Well, those are the principal arguments against staying in lockdown. Equally there are as many arguments for staying that way too. I have talked about these enough over the weeks and, please note, remain convinced by them to date. But they must work. I believe the Government does have a continuing (and growing now) responsibility to explain that its actions are really fixing the problem.
Personally, I have no real idea of timescale but do have some hope that before the end of June – mid July we could be in a Swedish type situation; a diluted lockdown. That simply means society and business re-start by then; but slowly and with care. People go to work (with rules), friends and families can meet (sensibly), restaurants and pubs are beginning to open applying distancing rules with sense, schools come back to life and people can travel around the country if they wish it. I suppose that’s a wish list. We live in hope.