Another red herring – the timing of lockdowns

In my opinion, the other red herring to be brought into play over the past 24 hours through the Dominic Cummings interview has been the question over whether or not the lockdowns, particularly the first one in March 2020 and the autumn one just after half term should have been earlier and whether that would have reduced loss of life.

It is a red-herring because it presumes that lockdowns were necessary and worked. It means that we don’t ask two crucial question “Did they work?” and “at what cost?” Now, it is important to hear what people are saying carefully.  You see, there are people who are COVID sceptics who don’t believe that we should have worried at all -the disease wasn’t as big or nasty as we were lead to believe.  There are also a small minority of people who continue to cling to the “let it rip” approach I referred to in my earlier post.

However, there are others among us who are not COVID sceptics but we are lockdown sceptics. We accept that lockdowns became inevitable for various reasons and we consider it important to work within the law even if we don’t always agree with it but we don’t think that locking down should get a free pass in terms of critical assessment.

I have frequently made the point through Faithroots that Lockdown is a suppression tactic. The aim is to suppress the virus down. Unless you have the means to completely lock in and contain those with the virus and their immediate contacts to a specific location (as China did in Wuhan) then you are not going to eliminate it. All through our lockdowns, the virus was still present and it was being transmitted between people who either could not or would not comply with social distancing measures.  The result was that suppression was simply delaying the prospect of serious illness and death not eliminating it.  In fact, I would argue that in the Autumn all we did was funnel the danger into the Christmas shopping season. I suspect that this was toxic because people came out of lockdown and out into packed shops when they were at their physical and emotionally most vulnerable when a new variant with much greater transmission was about to hit.

At the same time there were venues not subject to lockdown measures both under local lockdowns and in the January national lockdown -specifically churches  – but who were subject to other restrictions (facemasks, two metre distancing, restrictions on singing, contact tracing)  and did not experience problems with case transmission.   This leads me to another point. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the data evidence we have does not point conclusively to the benefits of lockdown. You see, in both the first and the third lockdowns, case numbers had already peaked before lockdown kicked in.  That is not immediately obvious because there is a lag time of 2 or 3 weeks from cases to hospitalisations and deaths.  Further, we have seen that it was not when full lockdown ended in the recent roadmap that we saw cases rising again (despite dire warnings) but after other measures began to lift.

Finally, there was not a uniform approach to lockdowns in other countries. We’ve been told not to compare ourselves with Western Europe but to see what East Asia did differently. Well in those countries there were either specific Chinese style full shut downs or something else was at work. The priority was on extensive and robust testing and contact tracing and it was on secure borders. 

Why do I make these points? It’s not to argue that everything is hunky-dory and nothing went wrong. It’s not that I don’t believe there were failures and its certainly not because I want to pretend COVID was just one big conspiracy theory. It’s that red-herrings distract us from where we really need to put our attention.  If we are to do better at pandemic response in the future then we need to have a laser focus on what really counts. 

What we saw throughout the pandemic was that

  1. We weren’t able to do effective contact tracing
  2. Our care homes were left vulnerable.
  3. Our borders were porous -even at the late stage of responding to the Indian variant.
  4. Secondary schools were unable to use bubble methods and contact tracing to isolate and prevent transmission.

A scatter gun approach of worrying about every perception of a former political advisor will not help us address those issues. BUT we do need to address them and urgently.

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