Britain Wrong About Covid: Long Lockdown Did More Harm than Good, Scientist Says | Coronavirus
Tit was a distinctive moment, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which perfectly summed up the mistakes and confusion of Britain’s early efforts to fight the disease, said Mark Woolhouse. During a briefing No.10 in March 2020, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove warned that the virus does not discriminate. âEveryone is in danger,â he announced.
And nothing could be further from the truth, says Professor Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh. “I’m afraid Gove’s statement is just plain wrong,” he said. âIn fact, it is a very discriminatory virus. Some people are at a much higher risk than others. People over 75 are 10,000 times more at risk than those under 15. “
And it was this inability to understand the wide variations in individual responses to Covid-19 that led to Britain’s imperfect responses to the onset of the disease, he argues – errors that included the imposition of ‘a long-term national lockdown. This is a strategy that Woolhouse – one of the country’s leading epidemiologists – describes as morally wrong and very damaging in his next book, The year the world went mad: a scientific dissertation.
“We have seriously injured our children and young adults who have been deprived of their education, their jobs and their normal existence, as well as their future prospects, while having to inherit a record mountain of public debts, “he said. argues. âAll this to protect the NHS from a disease which poses a far greater threat to the elderly, frail and infirm than to the young and healthy.
âWe were fascinated by the magnitude of the emergency once a century and only succeeded in making the crisis worse. In short, we panicked. It was an epidemic that called for a precision public health approach and it is the opposite.
Rather than impose blanket closures across the country, the government should have adopted measures designed to secure contacts, Woolhouse maintains. âYou can see from the UK data that people were reducing their contact with each other as cases increased and before the lockdown was imposed. That, coupled with safe measures for Covid, such as masks and testing, would have been enough to control the spread. “
The largely voluntary behavior change worked in Sweden and it should have been allowed to progress in the UK, argues Woolhouse. Instead, we went for a forced national lockdown, in part because, for the first time in history, we could. Enough business is now done online to enable large swathes of society to function well enough – through video conferencing and online shopping. âBut it was a lazy solution to a new coronavirus outbreak, as well as an extremely damaging solution,â he adds.
However, Woolhouse is working to reject the ideas of those who advocated the full openness of society, including academics who backed Barrington’s statement that proposed that the Covid-19 virus be allowed to circulate until ” enough people have been infected to obtain herd immunity.
“It would have led to a much bigger epidemic than the one we finally experienced in 2020,” says Woolhouse. âThere was also a lack of a compelling plan to adequately protect the most vulnerable members of society, the elderly and the immunocompromised. “
Instead, the country should have put in much more effort to protect vulnerable people. More than 30,000 people have died from Covid-19 in British care homes. On average, each household has received an additional Â£ 250,000 from the government to protect against the virus, he calculates. “Much more should have been spent on ensuring the protection of care homes,” said Woolhouse, who also lambasted the government for offering nothing more than a letter telling those who protect elderly parents and other vulnerable people in their own homes to take precautions.
The nation could have spent several thousand pounds per household on providing routine testing and helping to implement safe Covid measures for those who protect others and it still would have been a small fraction of the 300 billion pounds that we ultimately spent on our response to the pandemic, he argues. Indeed, Woolhouse particularly despises the neglect of “protectors,” such as nursing home workers and informal caregivers. “These people stood between the vulnerable and the virus, but for most of 2020 they received minimal recognition and received no help.”
Britain has spent a fortune to suppress the virus and will still service the debt incurred for generations to come, he adds. âIn contrast, we spent next to nothing to protect vulnerable people in the community. We should have and could have invested in both suppression and protection. We only chose one.
And Woolhouse insists further lockdowns are not the way to deal with future waves of Covid-19. âContainment is not a public health policy. They signify a failure of public health policy, âhe says.
Instead, the country needs, very quickly, not to be surprised by new variations and not to respond to each on an ad hoc basis. âWe should agree on a sliding scale of interventions and trigger points for their implementation. With omicron, everything seems a bit chaotic. We need better planning and preparation for the arrival of the next variant, which will certainly be the case. “