The year 2020 greeted us with a lot of bad news. On December 2019, a new strand of coronavirus started from Wuhan and ended up present in almost every place on earth. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19 can spread from human to human through respiratory droplets via coughing or sneezing, making social distancing a necessity at the moment. Various measures have been implemented in order to curb the fast spread of the disease including lockdown. A lot of countries resorted to implementing a forced lockdown to limit the interaction between their constituents despite the fact that halting businesses can seriously hurt their economies. COVID-19 is less fatal than the other viruses belonging in the same family which are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The fatality rate of COVID-19 is about 5%, much lower than that of SARS which is 10% and of MERS which is at 34%. We are going to discuss the negative effects of imposing a lockdown and argue our position based on our research, if we were to write an argumentative essay on the subject of a lockdown.
The "official" purpose of a lockdown
Scientists and researchers from around the world agree on one thing: a lockdown is the best practice to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. Staying at home and maintaining physical distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease, which is why limiting the interaction between people is the best option to flatten the infection rate. Without a vaccine, ceasing or at least minimising human to human contact seems like the only thing we can do to at least have the virus under control while it is still being studied for a cure. The world does not know anything about this virus, and what makes it worse is that infected people can not show any signs of the disease, making it difficult to identify who carries and passes the virus everywhere. Requiring the people to stay at home seems a logical option for now to decrease the infection rate. Because of its low fatality rate, COVID-19 can stay in a person's system and make its host infect at least three people, with or without symptoms. Aside from this, an asymptomatic person can be a "Superspreader" who can carry the virus and infect at least 20 people.
What do the numbers say?
At the time of writing (May 12, 2020), the Google Coronavirus stats present a very clear picture: the "First World" countries have the most casualties. The countries such as the US, Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium top the charts. Those countries might have more senior citizens who are more vulnerable. At the same time, those countries have the best medical care and financial resources to fight the disease. Is there any other reason? It is a very fascinating question that we have not heard any expert asked to address. Many conspiracy theories stemmed from the outbreak.
Sweden did not impose draconian measures and total lockdown, however, 3,313 deaths for the population of over 10 million is perfectly in line with the rest of the countries that did total lockdowns and shattered their economies. Belarus is another country that defied the virus. It currently has 140 deaths associated with COVID 19. There are countries like Australia and New Zealand that have less than 100 deaths and appear in the news as the example to follow on how to fight Coronavirus. I would argue that the countries' remote geographical location may be the reason for the low numbers. There are too many variables here to consider, but obviously the politicians credit success all to themselves.
The destructive effects of a lockdown
The lockdown due to the pandemic may have decreased the number of cases being recorded everywhere in the world while it is being implemented, but once it is lifted, new cases start to pile up, as proved by the countries which are now experiencing the second wave of the pandemic. If there is a positive effect brought by lockdown during this crisis, that is simply buying a little time or delaying the spread of the disease. What COVID-19 brought to the world, arguably, is more on the negative side as the situation has serious implications toward the socio-economic status of the world and shows a rippling effect toward every aspect of our daily lives. The lockdown caused millions of people to lose their jobs. Travel restrictions were implemented, schools were closed down, services were limited to basic necessities alone, and the healthcare systems were challenged. To name a few:
- Unemployment and economic collapse. The politicians are not businessmen and they do not understand how hard it is for a business to survive a situation when all of a sudden all sources of revenue are cut and there is overhead to pay. The US has launched a Stimulus Package for 3 trillion dollars to help businesses. Reportedly, the funds that were meant to help the small and medium size businesses have been appropriated by companies that are not "small or medium" by any stretch of the imagination. With a shattering economy and raging unemployment, we can have more casualties that will happen for reasons other than Coronavirus.
- Petroleum and Oil. The industry experienced a significant price crash affecting its sub-sectors. Before the pandemic, petroleum and oil are considered as an important commodity, but that industry is currently in an unstable position at the moment, affecting various companies related to the oil and petroleum products. After the lockdown, these products are likely to present a major price hike because of the resumption of the consumers.
- Food and Agriculture. The lockdown required all hotels and restaurant to limit, if not cease, operation in most countries leading to a serious drop in the demand of food. Panic-buying also added issues to the case as it destabilized the supply of basic items. The food sector in general including retailing and distribution aspects were placed under
- Education. Some schools have resorted to online classes, but there are countries who have economical and geographical limitations had no choice but to stop physical classes in the meantime, resulting to teachers losing their jobs. Likewise, non-teaching personnel including administrative officers down to cleaning personnel may have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
- Sports Industry. All employees in the sports industry were greatly affected as gyms and other sports-related businesses ceased operations in hope of controlling the infection rate of the new disease. Major sports events have been cancelled, and inevitably this will present a significant financial burden.
- Dictatorial Trends. Because of ironclad policies on quarantines and lockdowns, most government, even those under the democratic rule are currently experiencing subtle dictatorial trends. For instance, the presence of military and uniformed personnel are highly visible and this stirs up further fear of what might happen.
- Other Impacts. The need for technological solutions heightened as the pandemic placed hospitals in turmoil, because COVID-19 did not cancel the other pre-existing diseases – instead it added thousands of patients that are in need of care. The lockdown isolates the patients from relatives, consequently adding mental and emotional distress not only to the patient, but to their families as well. Furthermore, not only the affected families experience such distress as it can also affect people’s emotional well-being. Being locked down and restricted from usual routine can cause serious mental impact on people.
Despite the lockdown being an effective way to alleviate the continuous rise in the number of cases of COVID-19, its effect is not lasting and is economically dangerous. Imposing a lockdown make little to no difference in the actual number of deaths due to the case of COVID-19 in the long-run.
The lack of science behind the idea, as we learn from the expert
Professor Johan Giesecke, the Chief Epidemiologist for Sweden, gives a detailed answer about the implementation of lockdown across the globe. The initial idea is to implement measures that are evidence-based, however, he mentioned that there is no science behind imposing a lockdown, and this practice simply impeded the inevitable which is COVID-19 becoming a part of our daily lives like that of a normal flu. He also mentioned that there is no evidence that lockdowns work, and that people are afraid of the novelty of the virus despite it being a mild disease. Sweden encourages people to stay in their homes, but does not stop people from going outside to get food and other basic necessities, but he mentioned that Sweden is imposing a rule that a crowd cannot go beyond 50 people. Giesecke stated that the lockdown is a debatable topic since there is no actual data-gathering process that happened to come up with the strategy despite confirming the Sweden's goal is to protect the old and the frail. He also mentioned that there is “almost no science” behind most of the practices we are observing including school closures and border closures. He said that people may have overlooked the fact that the initial concern is that there will be a shortage in terms of hospice care, however, in Sweden alone, they have tripled its original capacity to address the problem.
Politicians, doctors, media, and perhaps every person in the world think that the reason why many countries have started to flatten the curve is because of the policy of lockdown, but for Giesecke, this is not the case. He mentioned that the reasons why the infection rate started to go down are not because of lockdown, but for one, because of immunity. Giesecke poses that the disease wipes down the old and the frail, and once the disease gets nothing to hold on to, the idea of it disappearing is looming. His explanation is simple. People are imposing draconian measures to stop the spread of the disease, then eventually sees that the result shows its effectiveness. However, once they try to take down one restriction, the numbers start to climb up again seemingly indicating that lifting a restriction is ineffective. So, for instance, a country decides to re-open schools, and the numbers go up again - that country will again close down schools and it will just become a cycle. Giesecke stated that no one seemed to have thought of any way to get out of the situation, and sticks to the idea of preventing the disease from spreading until a vaccine comes up. The idea of preventing the people from acquiring the disease disables us to get the actual fatality rate because not everyone is infected. He speculates that the real fatality rate of this disease is severely low at .1%. Since an infected person can not show any symptoms of the disease, it is possible that a significant number of people are actually infected, and that the only numbers we know of are confirmed cases and deaths. Considering the fact that the number of testing kits is not enough for every single person in the world, these numbers presumably do not indicate the actual figures we are looking for.
Likewise, Dr. Anders Tegnell, State Epidemiologist of Sweden, explains why Sweden is not imposing lockdown. While he confirmed that they are encouraging people to stay at home, he zeroes down the argument to people simply acting responsible to diminish the chance of the disease spreading. Dr. Tegnell also discussed that it is important to heighten the immunity of the population in slowing down the disease, and only then will they be able to remove some of their minimal restrictions. Sweden is still experiencing the same situation that other countries imposing a lockdown including the alarming number of death toll, however, an important difference is Sweden's economy did not stop. As Sweden continues to fight against the pandemic, its economy also continues to move as they are allowing people to go to work. Over time, people are starting to become more vigilant in terms of mitigating possible infection as more and more people start to follow health guidelines or safety protocols against the new disease.
The UK story
The Great Britain was supposed to follow the same path chosen by Sweden until Boris Johnson made a 180 degree turn. The move was caused by a scientific paper (The Imperial College report) that predicted over 500,000 deaths, in case no lockdown was imposed. That paper had the following problems:
- It was not peer reviewed
- It was based on inaccurate assumptions
- It did not take into account the evolution of the medical care in the course of the outbreak
The report was pushed by Mr. Neil Ferguson, the UK's Government Chief Advisor on the pandemic. Surprisingly enough, Neil Ferguson had to resign after he was reported to have violated the lockdown and quarantine measures himself when his mistress, a married woman, visited his apartment several times during the lockdown.
Social distancing is possible without a complete lockdown
The world has focused so much on testing people who may have the disease, simply to know if they have the disease. Giesecke posits that the antibody mass testing can indicate that most people have developed immunity against the disease, without even knowing it. He also stated that the imposition of lockdown could start a much scarier problem and that is the dictatorial trends, and that this will bring huge ramifications in the future. He mentioned that there could have been a better way in handling the disease, such as banning the visitors from other countries the moment we knew that the spread began in order to attain the goal of protecting the old and frail. He also mentioned that most caregivers or people working in nursing homes in Europe come from other countries. There are many things that Europe or Sweden could have done a couple months ago in order to prevent this disease from killing hundreds of thousands, and that lockdown is unnecessary should those practices have been made before. Essentially, Giesecke thinks that we should allow the disease to simply pass through the population. Giesecke thinks that this disease cannot be stopped from spreading, and the lockdowns can only stop it at some point but once the policy has been lifted, it will continue to go on because it can stay through asymptomatic people. The disease "will roll over you, no matter what you do", he said.
What should be done instead?
The goal should still remain the same. Protect the old and frail through self-discipline. Maintain social distancing to slow down the spread of the disease until the vaccine is available for everyone, however, it is indeed impossible to hold down people and make them stay in their homes. No one is capable of feeding billions of people for a severely long duration, a month, even six months or a year, perhaps it can be handled - but, it will be extremely difficult and somehow impossible after that. Although the idea seems to be cold-hearted at the moment, it also presents an important insight on this pandemic. Giesecke mentioned that lifting the lockdown policy can double the number of deaths, but it will not stop the world from moving unlike now that everything seem to have been frozen in place. He is confident that sooner or later, there will be a vaccine but until then self-discipline must be implemented. Maintain physical distancing and practice proper hygiene. Strengthen our bodies as we move on, and stop attempting to halt the spread by imposing a lockdown because it will only postpone what seems to be inevitable.