The recent statement from the World Health Organisation’s Special Envoy on Covid-19 criticising lockdown as a primary means of tackling the Corona virus was a surprise. Not least because it seems to validate the beleaguered positions of  those bucking the international consensus.

In relation to the biggest issue in the US Presidential election it looks like WHO agree more with Donald Trump than Joe Biden.  Trump has repeatedly said that America must open up and get back to work, Biden has promised to shut down the economy for three months if necessary.

That debate is a microcosm of a global dispute between those who will support any measure to tackle Covid and those who want to weigh all the consequences of each strategy. The majority of countries have committed to plotting a course closer to the former, and Ireland, true to form, has adopted a ‘copy everyone else’ policy.

In a surprising turn of events a spokesman for the WHO, Dr. David Nabarro, appealed to world leaders to stop using Lockdowns as a method of controlling the coronavirus. He said that the lock-down’s are already having a negative effect on the global economy and those who depend upon it for their livelihoods, and he said that global poverty is increasing as a result.

His concern that lockdowns have too many negative consequences echoes that expressed by a significant and growing number of health specialists and economists around the world.

Dissenting voices, such as Dr. Martin Feeley, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, Dr. Jay Batacharya and others, have pointed to the dangers of lock-down.

One of the concerns which is being more freely expressed as time goes on is that there is no end to the on-off lock-down strategy in sight. Dr Feeley, saying that lock-down was unfeasible, recently opined on Virgin Media that it would take 20 years for the current lock-down strategy to suppress the virus.

20 years of lock-down is a sobering thought. That’s a quarter of a life time! It was the first time an actual figure was put on the lock-down timeline and it’s obviously an unworkable task to have such duration for such draconian measures.

The notion that ‘if we would only commit to a complete closure for a few weeks it would defeat the virus’ never felt like it was properly thought through. Students of history might remember that Julius Ceasar was initially only granted the position of dictator for one year and this led to the fall of the Roman Republic. Relinquishing freedoms for the “common good” is a dangerous step.

There is a dissenting scientific view on the measures being advised to tackle Corona, but in Ireland a number of high profile scientists and doctors criticising the political consensus – such as Dr. Feeley and Dr. Patrick Morrisey who were both fired – have been attacked and sometimes had their reputations and livelihoods threatened.

Why is it that science is being politicised like this? The equating of international political/scientific organisations with scientific authority is damaging to the reputation of science.

There is gathering anecdotal evidence that the single minded focus on tackling the Corona virus is having devastating consequences. More stories are emerging of instances of people dying from illnesses that are treatable, but were missed because of the lack of the regular emergency and consultancy services that usually lead to diagnosis and treatment. Health workers are being diverted from their trained specialty to testing. Where did testers in the testing centres come from? How many came from the children’s acute pediatrics section in Tallaght hospital which was closed because of Corona?

Another worrying effect of lock-down is what it is doing to families. Teachers have reported that some children came back to school in September at the same level they left with in March. Dr. Scott Atlas gave an interview back in July where he talked about an increase in children coming into hospital emergency units with domestic trauma injuries. He explained that these were not black eyes, but children who in many cases were close to death, sometimes comatose, with injuries including broken bones and internal bleeding.

We don’t have figures for how many of these incidents are occurring; it is anecdotal; but it is coming from so many doctors in so many hospitals that it seems like there is a serious problem simmering away just below the surface.

One wonders if the newly articulated position of the WHO regarding lock-downs will soften the cough of the NPHET and the lock-down czars. One also wonders if Leo Varadkar had a tip off when he pushed back against the level 5 lock-down request, or did he just sense the lock-down fatigue better than the clueless Micheal Martin.

The truth is that the WHO and Trump have a point. The decisions we make regarding whether or how to lock-down include much more factors than virology and epidemiology. That decision should include consideration of, amongst other things, the health of the economy, the health system, and of liberty itself.

 


 

Lorcán Mac Mathúna