Is the lockdown worth it?

It is a troubling sign of the times that the real question of whether or not the lockdown(s) are worth it or whether it would be better to take other approaches (such as targeted protection of vulnerable groups) has become so acrimonious. These days people taking opposing sides in an argument often seem to find it necessary to denounce the people taking the opposite view as not just wrong but as terribly wrong – and bad people. It is a sign of the general hysterical climate which is gripping the UK. [Note; the UK as a political entity no longer exists, but that is a theme for another post]. Many questions are contentious and it is quite possible that there are eminently reasonable arguments on both sides. We seem to have forgotten this.

Another problem with this acrimonious lockdown v. herd immunity debate is that it completely misses another option. I would characterise this option as suppressing the virus via individual responsibility. It is notable quite how quickly the UK (and maybe other countries; I am just observing the UK) has moved to a setup where authority tells people what to do – under threat of punishment, and the people comply (or rebel) accordingly. I.e. a situation of parents and children. (A classic Parent-Child interaction in Transactional Analysis). This is hardly consistent with the idea of democracy. In theory democracy at least (one would hope) might mean something more than the right to choose your dictator. In one vision democracy is aligned with Enlightenment values of reason and individual responsibility. From this point of view the focal point for stopping coronavirus should be individual responsibility, not government action. Put simply; if 60 million individuals in the UK each took personal responsibility for limiting their social contacts, maintaining social distancing, not mixing any more than is necessary etc. then the effect would be similar to (probably better than) a forced lockdown – and without the pain. This option is not discussed because we are stuck in a fog where the idea of civil society has been obliterated. (Jose Appleton is the best analyst of the negation of civil society in contemporary British society).

A few observations. In September there were 2,568 excess deaths in England (over 5 year average). [1] Of 39,827 deaths registered in England in September just 1.7% – 690 – were due to Covid-19. [1] A starling piece of data: in September in England there were 2,568 excess deaths BUT just 690 of these were due to Covid-19. This means that 1,878 excess deaths in September were due to other causes. There were excess deaths but three times as many from non-Covid causes as from Covid.

Yes. I had to read the data three times as well. On the face of it this would appear to be (immensely) strong support to those who are arguing that the lockdown is doing more harm than good. People are not receiving treatment they need either because their operations have been postponed or because they have chosen not to go to hospital or they have been unable to access their GP. (GPs appear to have responded to the crisis by banning patients from coming to surgeries so it is hardly surprising that more people are dying at home).

While I understand that this is a complex epidemiological situation and other factors may be in play these figures really do appear to suggest that the exclusive focus on Coronavirus has been at least as deadly as the virus itself. At least in September 2020. When you add in other factors such as the economic fall-out, including the massive level of public debt, the case against lockdowns only strengthens.

On the other hand; there is really no doubt based on both the empirical data, and on the modelling, that the lockdowns have prevented many deaths from Covid-19. There can’t be any serious question that without the reduction in social contacts which the lockdowns bring about then the epidemic would be worse. There would be more transmission and more deaths. (The failure to lockdown, that is, to protect Care Homes, led to thousands of completely unnecessary deaths; but that is a different story).

Without doing a really detailed analysis of the statistics the only thing that can be said with certainty is that there is an element of a trade-off in a lockdown. It is not cost free. Some use this fact to argue that the NHS is under-resourced. It doesn’t have the spare capacity to deal with an epidemic without sacrificing routine (even essential routine) care. It is possible that the capacity that there is could be better used. For example; was it really correct for GPs to close their surgeries to people with flu-like symptoms? Given the ease with which the emergency, basic care hospitals (“Nightingale”) were set up – could not more use of been made of these; with all Covid cases sent to such a facility rather than to a standard hospital? As well as reducing pressure on hospitals this would have reduced cross-infection in hospitals. It would make sense for someone to ask these questions now and plan for the next wave, or another virus.

One final point. It is not the lockdowns per se which cut transmission. It is the reduction in social contacts. Such reductions could be achieved at the level of the individual and the community and on an entirely voluntary basis. That is; the question of reducing transmission could be negotiated and resolved at the level of civil society. If we really had the kind of society envisaged in the Enlightenment this is precisely what would have happened. But we don’t. We have a kind of dictatorship of power and money with a gloss of ‘freedom’. The solutions are inevitably heavily conditioned by the profit motive and by the values of hierarchy and manipulation which are dominant in our society and which are so brilliantly analysed by Illich.

Notes

  1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/monthlymortalityanalysisenglandandwales/september2020#leading-causes-of-death-registered-in-september-2020

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer