UK got it wrong – Lockdowns do more harm than good

In a new book by Professor Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease epidemiologist from Edinburgh University, outlines the mistakes and missteps that made the pandemic worse in the UK. There was a pivotal moment at the start of the pandemic that encapsulates the confusion of the Government’s early efforts to tackle covid-19. In March 2020 at a No 10 briefing, when Michael Gove stated that the virus did not discriminate between people , saying “Everyone is at risk.” Nothing could be further from the truth. “I am afraid Gove’s statement was simply not true – in fact, this is a very discriminatory virus. Some people are much more at risk from it than others. People over 75 are 10,000 times more at risk than those who are under 15.”

Professor Mark Woolhouse:
Professor Mark Woolhouse: ‘This is a very discriminatory virus.’ Photograph: Ian Georgeson

It was this failure to understand the wide variations in individual responses to Covid-19 that led to Britain’s flawed responses to the disease’s appearance. “We did serious harm to our children and young adults who were robbed of their education, jobs and normal existence, as well as suffering damage to their future prospects, while they were left to inherit a record-breaking mountain of public debt,” Woolhouse wrote in the book titled The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir. “All this to protect the NHS from a disease that is a far, far greater threat to the elderly, frail and infirm than to the young and healthy.

Largely voluntary behaviour change worked in Sweden and it should have been allowed to progress in the UK, argues Woolhouse. Instead, we plumped for an enforced national lockdown because for the first time in history, we could. The country should have put far more effort into protecting the vulnerable. Well over 30,000 people died of Covid-19 in Britain’s care homes. On average, each home got an extra £250,000 from the government to protect against the virus, he calculates. “Much more should have been spent on providing protection for care homes. ” The nation could have spent several thousand pounds per household on provision of routine testing and in helping to implement Covid-safe measures for those shielding others and that would still have amounted to a small fraction of the £300bn we eventually spent on our pandemic response, he argues. Indeed, Woolhouse is particularly disdainful of the neglect of “shielders”, such as care home workers and informal carers. “These people stood between the vulnerable and the virus but, for most of 2020, they got minimal recognition and received no help.”

Woolhouse is emphatic that further lockdowns are not the way to deal with future waves of Covid-19. “Lockdowns aren’t a public health policy. They signify a failure of public health policy,” he states. Instead, the country needs, very quickly, not to be surprised by new variants and not to respond each one in an ad hoc fashion. “We should agree a sliding scale of interventions and trigger points for implementing them. With omicron it all feels a bit chaotic. We need better planning and preparation for when the next variant arrives, as it surely will.”

Surprisingly, to me anyway, Woolhouse is at pains to reject the ideas of those who advocated the complete opening up of society, including academics who backed the Barrington Declaration which proposed the Covid-19 virus be allowed to circulate until enough people had been infected to achieve herd immunity. “This would have led to an epidemic far larger than the one we eventually experienced in 2020,” says Woolhouse. “It also lacked a convincing plan for adequately protecting the more vulnerable members of society, the elderly and those who are immuno-compromised.” click full source.

This NOT quite what the Great Barrington Declaration said. It emphasised the importance of the concept of “focussed protection”, which as far as I can see, is exactly what Professor Woolhouse is saying when he talks of protecting care homes and shielding measures to protect vulnerable households and carers. Anyway, other than this, I fully agree with him, and looking forward to reading the book.

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