At no time in years of public health training and experience did I ever hear of using “lockdown” as a strategy to control an epidemic. In 2003 just after the SARS epidemic, I remember being fascinated by an article about China. A local mayor announced he was going to lockdown his city a few days later in order to contain the virus. Sometime after his announced deadline he sent officials out to take a census and they found whole apartment complexes vacated of people who had escaped before the deadline. Something similar happened in Australia this year, when there were reports of the Hume Highway between Victoria and New South Wales being “bumper to bumper” in the days preceding Victoria’s announced lockdown.
Not only does lockdown provoke fear, it destroys financial security and shifts economies. The economy in 2020 has seen the fortune of the world’s richest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, increase by $75 billion. Jack Ma, Chinese businessman and founder of Alibaba, has reportedly made $45 billion in profit. Where do these profits originate? Small businesses across the globe have folded on an unprecedented scale, leaving people in despair.
There is no Covid in Cambodia but there are anecdotal reports of soaring rates of suicide. The London Ambulance service have reported a 70% increase in call outs for suicide and attempted suicide since 2019. Poverty rates are estimated to double globally between 2020 and 2021 as wealth shifts even further to the wealthy classes. This is reported incorrectly as being “due to the pandemic”. It is due to pandemic response. It is due to lockdown.
Lockdown was a sudden and newly adopted public health strategy in 2020 that appears to have come directly from a Chinese propaganda machine using social media to promote the idea. Sky News covered the story last month in a report by Michael Senger, an American lawyer. He presents a cogent argument in this 13 minute interview Sky News: The Outsiders Interview With Michael Senger.
It is interesting to learn via Senger that Xi Jinping personally visited Imperial College London in 2015. ICL are famous for their recommendation in March 2020 that if countries did not impose strict lockdown rules, many millions would die, based on a faulty mathematical model. The purpose of Xi’s visit was to announce “a series of new UK-China education and research collaborations” including “nanotechnology, bioengineering… and public health.”
A number of otherwise reputable people, who should (and I believe do) know better, including David Nabarro of World Health Organisation, continue to argue erroneously “against the herd immunity strategy”. Herd immunity is not a strategy. The strategy is to keep life as normal as possible, as pandemic plans pre-2020 – including those published by WHO – all clearly recommended for maintenance of public health. A natural consequence of keeping life as normal as possible is that those who are not vulnerable, especially to a virus which causes no symptoms in 80% of those infected, develop population levels of immunity which then protect the vulnerable. For this to be somehow controversial in 2020 seems to deny decades of public health related science? It also now denies what we appear to be seeing in parts of the world including London, Stockholm, Northern Italy and New York where, whilst cases may have risen (in large part because of intensive testing of mainly asymptomatic people but also due to normal virus seasonality as seen in the four “common cold” Coronaviruses), illness and death have not (and are not expected to) followed the pattern seen in March-April.
Lockdowns and prolonged isolation of healthy people were previously recommended against. They cause extreme damage especially to the poor and vulnerable (eg small business owners, those living alone, the disabled and their carers, single parents and the elderly). They don’t stop a highly transmissible respiratory virus except, potentially, in the very early phase before it spreads; they merely postpone it’s arrival, simultaneously delaying the development of protective population level immunity. There remains no guarantee of a timely, safe and effective Coronavirus vaccine being available anytime soon, if at all, and meanwhile lockdowns are causing untold harm.
Ultimately the historical events of 2020 so far are already going to take decades of recovery in economic, health and societal terms. Preventing panic is a basic public health principle which was somehow obliterated in 2020. I feel this will become a major element of the pandemic story when oneday we look back in hindsight at this horrific and hysterical year.