or so many months, it’s been nonstop bad news on business closures, arts trashed, museum shuttering, unemployment, missed surgeries and diagnostics, plus rising loneliness, drug overdoses, depression, and suicide. Every day has been as dark or darker than the previous one.
And yet here we are with a political class, all over the world, refusing to admit error and fearing the reopening because they don’t want to be seen as reversing course on the most catastrophic policies in modern history.
And yet, there are some signs of hope. Small ones. We shall see.
A medical advisor to Boris Johnson, Prof. Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, has actually admitted that the government had no idea what it was doing and so completely panicked with lockdowns.
“We couldn’t think of anything better to do,” he has admitted.
“Lockdown was a panic measure and I believe history will say trying to control Covid-19 through lockdown was a monumental mistake on a global scale, the cure was worse than the disease.
“I never want to see national lockdown again. It was always a temporary measure that simply delayed the stage of the epidemic we see now. It was never going to change anything fundamentally, however low we drove down the number of cases, and now we know more about the virus and how to track it we should not be in this position again.
“We absolutely should never return to a position where children cannot play or go to school.
“I believe the harm lockdown is doing to our education, health care access, and broader aspects of our economy and society will turn out to be at least as great as the harm done by Covid-19.”
This is a hugely significant admission. Of course he is only saying what thousands of independent experts have said for many months. But we should appreciate just how much courage it requires for a person in his position to come forward with such a frank admission.
And in Europe, we see signs and hints of admission. The Telegraph headlined: Europe is at last waking up to its lockdown folly by Sherelle Folly:
In recent days, world leaders have hinted at an extraordinary admission: lockdowns are a disaster, and we can’t afford to repeat the mistake.
Still, when that spiritless reverend of the global order Angela Merkel delivered this confession a few days ago, she was so officiously ambiguous that the world paid no attention. “Politically, we want to avoid closing borders again at any cost, but that assumes that we act in coordination,” she droned at a summit in the Mediterranean. And with that, an earthquake: saving lives “at any cost” has been excised from the lexicon of liberal internationalism. Instead the aim is to save the economy. This means “acting in coordination” to kill off second lockdowns.
Emmanuel Macron was the first leader to drop this little bombshell. Last week he said that France can’t cope with the “collateral damage” of a second lockdown, explaining that “zero risk never exists in any society”. Italy joined in three days later, with the health minister hinting that the country will not return to national hibernation. Meanwhile, after lauding China’s draconian lockdown, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is imploring countries to avoid battening down the hatches again.
To be sure, in the U.S. there are no such admissions, yet. Zero! How plausible is it that among 50 governors, each with different locking down and opening up plans, and countless thousands of mayors and county health officials, not one made any mistakes? It’s ridiculous. At some point, all credibility among these people is lost.
There are small signs, however, that liberalization could come sooner rather than later.
For example, Governor Cuomo has taken five states off the quarantine list: Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland and Montana. The governor says it is because these states met the targets, which sounds reasonable until you remember that none of these people have cared a thing about previous targets.
Maybe governors are starting to inch out of the corner into which they have painted themselves?
The CDC has dropped its recommended 14-day quarantine for travelers and replaced it with more sensible guidelines: don’t travel if you are sick and stay safe when you go places. This is a very important change that could encourage more liberalization among states and nations. The end of travel was one of the most brutal and shocking changes since these lockdowns began.
On Monday and without announcement, the CDC has revised its recommendation on testing: no longer do people without symptoms need a test. Now, one might think that is very obvious. Why would any healthy person not in a vulnerable group subject himself or herself to a test if he or she doesn’t feel sick? Right now, kids all over the country are being forced to take this invasive test just to be in school or to work, and the testing keeps happening again and again. From now on, the CDC recommends treating Covid-19 like any other disease. Remember too that the number of asymptomatic carriers could be as high as 70%. In addition, the World Health Organization’s admission that asymptomatic transmission is very rare is supported by all available evidence.
Revising the guidelines makes sense. A bit less compulsion is always a welcome thing.
To be sure, some epidemiologists are very upset about this because it means that they are denied perfectly accurate data for the much-sought-after but still-elusive infection fatality rate. It also means giving up the fantasy of track-and-trace, an impossible and pointless task for a virus this widespread.
There’s another factor too. For months now, the media has discovered that they can get clicks and generate public alarm by headlining increased cases, and governors can continue lockdowns merely by citing case data. Some people sarcastically call this the Casedemic. Truly, every day it makes one want to scream at the TV: cases are not deaths; cases are not hospitalization!
So ending this would indeed be mercifully. But of course it’s a problem for governors invested in lockdowns, and therefore New York, Connecticut, and California immediately announced that they would ignore the CDC. So after yelling at everyone to obey the CDC no matter what, we find that they are happy to ignore the CDC insofar as it makes recommendations that contradict their political ambitions.
Another very encouraging sign was the Wall Street Journal’s front page story by Greg Ip: New Thinking on Covid Lockdowns: They’re Overly Blunt and Costly:
In response to the novel and deadly coronavirus, many governments deployed draconian tactics never used in modern times: severe and broad restrictions on daily activity that helped send the world into its deepest peacetime slump since the Great Depression.
The equivalent of 400 million jobs have been lost world-wide, 13 million in the U.S. alone. Global output is on track to fall 5% this year, far worse than during the financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Despite this steep price, few policy makers felt they had a choice, seeing the economic crisis as a side effect of the health crisis. They ordered nonessential businesses closed and told people to stay home, all without the extensive analysis of benefits and risks that usually precedes a new medical treatment.
There wasn’t time to gather that sort of evidence: Faced with a poorly understood and rapidly spreading pathogen, they prioritized saving lives.
Five months later, the evidence suggests lockdowns were an overly blunt and economically costly tool.