lockdown scepticism v COVID scepticism

You may increasingly be hearing people described as, or even describing themselves as lockdown sceptics. These are people likely to be disagreeing with the Government not (as seems to be the majority case) for doing too little too late about the virus but for doing too much.  A lot of the suspicion comes from a kind of “libertarian” suspicion of big government and authoritarianism.

I’m not convinced however that the word is being used correctly. It is being used to refer to quite a broad position.  A lot of the scepticism is not just at lockdowns but at any intervention and is in fact at the belief that the virus is really that serious and/or that there is anything we can or should be doing to combat and control it. The governing view appears to be that we should ride out the illness, allow it to rip through the younger generations whilst shielding the elderly and build up herd immunity. Sceptics are likely to point to Sweden as offering the best response to the virus.

However, this isn’t really lockdown scepticism it is really either Government scepticism or a kind of scepticism about COVID19 itself. The attitude of some of social media might be summed up as “Pandemic, what pandemic?”

This is important because there are actual lockdown sceptics. These are people who believe the pandemic is real and serious. They also believe that it is possible to introduce measures in order to combat and control the virus. However, they simply are not convinced that the form of lockdown being brought in by Western governments is necessary or likely to be effective. In fact, they may well be concerned that such an approach will be harmful.

I fall into that category.  I fully support social distancing, face masks, handwashing and contact tracing.  I also am of the view that strict local measures should be brought in for towns, cities and regions wherever necessary. However, I am concerned that the most recent lockdown announcement was a misstep that the Government has been politically forced into that may cause significant damage to social, emotional and economic well-being for many.

Whilst the lockdown may have some effect by closing down bars, pubs, cafes and reducing travel, I see two major holes in its dealing with the virus. First of all, the pre-announcement is likely to see people making the most of “freedom” between now and Wednesday evening leading to a serious of super spreader events. Secondly it leaves other areas unaddressed. Whilst venues and places of business that have been observing social distancing, mask wearing and  the rule of six will be closed down, there is one specific area where that has not been the case and this will not change at all … schools.

When I first compared schools to shops and churches a few people got upset with me. They thought I was having a go at school teachers. I wasn’t. My wife is a teacher. What I was saying was that if you have all children back at school. Then it is impossible to follow the measures required to prevent spread. Whilst there is a possibility that the transmission rate is lower among children there is a risk that we are being too complacent on this by conflating big 14-18 year olds in with little 7 year olds.  Furthermore, I have a little hypothesis forming. I suspect that view is based on the first wave where I heard very little about children catching COVID19 prior to lockdown. Now, we are consistently hearing about pupils catching the illness on a daily basis.

Here’s my hypothesis.  I suspect that one reason why children were low transmitters before was that they tend to be so active and mobile, always on the move so that the level of contact with one another was minimal – they in effect bounced off of each other and so did the virus.  Now what we are doing is asking children to spend the entire week pretty much confined to one part of a school with the same people. What if that is enabling them to pass on quite a significant dose of the virus to each other? I would not be surprised to discover in the future that studies show that young people played a greater role as virus spreaders in the second wave to in the first wave.

My concern is that students and teachers alike are being asked to comply with measures such as year group bubbles which frustrates them because they feel like measures to stop the virus are being imposed on them. Teachers, disconnected from their faculty colleagues are rushing round schools to teach stationary year groups, they are exhausted and anxious which will probably make them more vulnerable to becoming run down and more likely to pick up viruses. It will also mean that they will not be as vigilant and on things as they need to be. That creates other risks as well as the risk of COVID19. It’s not the schools, teachers or students fault – it is simply the position they find themselves in.

So, I am sceptical of a second lockdown. Quite rightly people will want to know what I would do instead, even though I’m not an epidemiologist. But, then I’m not sure it is the epidemiologists who are driving lockdown 2, I suspect it is coming from the behavioural scientists. We’ve not had an explanation as to why current measures are not going to suppress the illness and why the new ones will be different. I suspect the answer is because the problem is not with the effectiveness of current measures if followed but because of the number of people not following them.   This adds a further problem in because I also have a feeling that fewer people will comply and those who do will not follow the rules as stringently this time.

Anyway, this is what I would be doing.

  1. I would not have had a circuit break lock down of everything. However, I would have extended half term by a week in order to review the situation in schools and prepare for the next term. 
  2. I would have then brought children back into school on a rotational basis with a hybrid of online and in classroom provision (just as churches are doing). This would have enabled social distancing in school and the ability to supervise home times.
  3. I would introduce town centre curfews in Tier 2 areas. It is not enough to impose early closing times if that just pushes crowds onto the street.
  4. I would  create additional focused COVID Nightingale centres for treatment and recuperation. I’d probably commandeer a few Butlins and Pontins camps for this.  This would enable a strict barrier between those who are quarantined with the virus along with those treating it and those who are in hospital for other conditions.
  5. I would introduce Tier 4 with still tighter provision and the option for full local lockdowns. These would be short sharp shocks with everything shut down for a week, no exceptions and no travel in and out of an area.

What you will see is that some of the measures there will in fact be stricter than what we have now. However, the aim is to be more targeted and to switch the sledgehammer approach to using more precision tools.

I hold out hope. These are the musings of an arm-chair outside the box thinker. There is a high probability that I’m wrong and the experts are right. However, it would be good to hear thar other perspectives and approaches are being considered.

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