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Is the cure worse by far than the disease?

OK, I've decided to nail my colours to the mast on Covid-19. And before you ask… No, I am not an epidemiologist or economist. Nor am I a politician with votes to garner, or a journalist who revels in sensationalism. I am just an opinionated individual with no power other than to express my opinion. And yes, I’m angry and saddened and sound it.

I am completely opposed to the virtually worldwide lockdown, more accurately described as "house arrest" or "solitary confinement", the latter a particularly cruel punishment for many. For most of the poor, it is a grotesque imprisonment in a powder keg of too many people in too small a space with too little food and none of the luxuries that make lockdown tolerable for the middle class and rich.

Before you say, as some say to dissenters, that I want people to die, please think how ridiculous that sounds. Newsflash: I don’t want people to die. So hear me out, or stop reading if you prefer.

As I understand it, there is no cure for the virus. It is here, it is here to stay, it is transmitted human to human. Though it is a killer, it kills predominantly the elderly and already-sick, that is, the vulnerable. Newsflash: I don’t want the vulnerable to die either, but this at least gives us a target group for maximum thought and protection.

The only long-term “solution” is a vaccine. Best case scenario one will be developed in 12 to 24 months, but despite decades of research a vaccine has yet to be developed for HIV. No-one, except perhaps the criminally insane, thinks we can be locked down until a vaccine is found, produced, distributed and administered to 7.5 billion people. Or perhaps we will administer the likely limited supplies to the first world only and build walls to keep out the third? Until then, people will continue to be infected and die.

The other long-term “solution” is herd immunity, which requires that people get sick and get well and develop in the process immunity from this particular virus. Admittedly, immunity is for an unknown period, though hopefully long enough for scientists to develop a vaccine. A recent study in California shows that possibly tens of thousands more people than anyone thought possible have already been infected, been asymptomatic and gotten well. This is excellent news. It is herd immunity in the making. If it is the case, it also means the death rate, that is the number of deaths per thousand infections, is MUCH lower than predicted. Freeing people to mingle means people will die, but what on earth is the alternative? Permanent lockdown? Pray that the infection rate in your country is already sky-high and unnoticed because for most of those infected, Covid-19 is asymptomatic, and herein lies salvation.

A third possible “solution” is finding an existing medication that works to make the sick well, but don’t hold your breath, and developing therapies using anti-bodies from Covid-19 survivors.

There is no easy way to end lockdown. And when we begin again to mingle, more will begin again to die. There will be a second wave and third and fourth… When we come out of lockdown, the virus will still be here and it will still kill. Or am I missing something?

The main purpose of the lockdown was not to stop the virus, but to slow its spread in order for badly prepared healthcare systems to play catch-up. There is not much point in playing the blame game here, but it is shocking that many rich countries were ill prepared to quickly ramp up capacity. By comparison to some, take a look at Singapore’s preparedness post-SARS and therefore their very different and much more reasoned response to Covid-19.

Most countries will never have sufficient healthcare capacity to cope with “excess” deaths. In addition, these same countries are entirely incapable of trillion dollar handouts to be reclaimed from generations into the future. Many are also corrupt, so sit back and watch aid to them disappear into the pockets of the elite. Luckily, however, many of these same countries also have young populations and are less vulnerable, therefore, to the coronavirus. Before you say the young are also vulnerable, I know that, but the numbers are markedly lower, certainly not higher than other things that kill the young every day. In the developing world, people are more vulnerable under lockdown to desperate hunger, long term loss of income, and corruption. Not to mention a reduction of already limited, in many cases, civil liberties.

Like it or not, every decision we make as individuals in a society of people is a balancing act, a cost-benefit analysis. There would be fewer deaths on the road if we set a lower speed limit, but we “accept” the number defined by 120kph. What we don’t do is ban driving.

Here’s what should have been done at the beginning and could be done tomorrow by simply ending the lockdown. Ask the vulnerable to self-isolate for as long as it takes to ramp up the healthcare system. Note, I say “ask”. Some will decide to take a risk, and that should be their right. Ask people to practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash their hands. Educate, educate, educate. Work on the healthcare system, including testing. Focus on finding out whether existing medicines might mitigate symptoms. Stop undermining civil liberties.

Today, I heard that someone had said of the lockdown, “we are all in the same boat”, to which someone else had responded with, “no, we are all in the same storm”. The latter is right, of course. Some of us are weathering the storm drinking cocktails on the deck of our private yacht. Many are trying to stay afloat in a leaky skiff. Most are in the water, drowning. Beware the moment they try to come on board.

Gail Day
Opinionated individual and concerned citizen

Gail Day, until retirement in December 2018, was Executive Manager of the Free Market Foundation. She and her partner spent 2019 cycling from Cape Town to Casablanca and are currently locked down in Morocco.

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