Britain got it wrong on Covid: long lockdown did more harm than good, says scientist | Coronavirus

Tright here was a particular second, in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, that neatly encapsulated the errors and confusion of Britain’s early efforts to sort out the illness, says Mark Woolhouse. At a No 10 briefing in March 2020, cupboard minister Michael Gove warned the virus did not discriminate. “Everyone seems to be in danger,” he introduced.

And nothing may very well be farther from the reality, argues Professor Woolhouse, an knowledgeable on infectious ailments at Edinburgh College. “I’m afraid Gove’s assertion was merely not true,” he says. “Actually, this can be a very discriminatory virus. Some individuals are a lot more in danger from it than others. Individuals over 75 are an astonishing 10,000 instances more in danger than those that are below 15.”

And it was this failure to know the extensive variations in particular person responses to Covid-19 that led to Britain’s flawed responses to the illness’s look, he argues – errors that included the imposition of a long-lasting, nationwide lockdown. This can be a technique that Woolhouse – one of many nation’s main epidemiologists – describes as morally wrong and extremely damaging in his forthcoming e-book, The 12 months the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir.

“We did critical harm to our youngsters and younger adults who had been robbed of their schooling, jobs and regular existence, in addition to struggling harm to their future prospects, whereas they had been left to inherit a record-breaking mountain of public debt,” he argues. “All this to guard the NHS from a illness that may be a far, far higher menace to the aged, frail and infirm than to the younger and wholesome.


“We had been mesmerised by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded solely in making a disaster even worse. In brief, we panicked. This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public well being strategy and it got the other.”

Michael Gove told the country that the virus didn’t discriminate but he was wrong, according to leading epidemiologist.
Michael Gove instructed the nation that the virus didn’t discriminate however he was wrong, in accordance with main epidemiologist. {Photograph}: PRU/AFP/Getty Pictures

Slightly than imposing blanket lockdowns throughout the nation, the federal government ought to have adopted measures designed to make contacts secure, Woolhouse maintains. “You’ll be able to see from the UK information that individuals had been lowering their contacts with one another as instances rose and earlier than lockdown was imposed. That, coupled with Covid-safe measures, reminiscent of masks and testing, would have been enough to regulate unfold.”

Largely voluntary behaviour change labored in Sweden and it ought to have been allowed to progress within the UK, argues Woolhouse. As an alternative, we plumped for an enforced nationwide lockdown, partially as a result of, for the primary time in historical past, we may. Sufficient enterprise is now achieved on-line to permit massive elements of society to perform pretty effectively – via video conferences and on-line buying. “However it was a lazy resolution to a novel coronavirus epidemic, in addition to a massively damaging one,” he provides.

Nonetheless, Woolhouse is at pains to reject the concepts of those that advocated the whole opening up of society, together with teachers who backed the Barrington Declaration which proposed the Covid-19 virus be allowed to flow into till sufficient individuals had been contaminated to realize herd immunity.

“This might have led to an epidemic far bigger than the one we finally skilled in 2020,” says Woolhouse. “It additionally lacked a convincing plan for adequately defending the more weak members of society, the aged and those that are immuno-compromised.”

As an alternative, the nation ought to have put far more effort into defending the weak. Nicely over 30,000 individuals died of Covid-19 in Britain’s care properties. On common, every house got an additional £250,000 from the federal government to guard towards the virus, he calculates. “A lot more ought to have been spent on offering safety for care properties,” says Woolhouse, who additionally castigates the federal government for providing nothing more than a letter telling these shielding aged mother and father and different weak people in their very own properties to take precautions.

The nation may have spent a number of thousand kilos per family on provision of routine testing and in serving to to implement Covid-safe measures for these shielding others and that may nonetheless have amounted to a small fraction of the £300bn we finally spent on our pandemic response, he argues. Certainly, Woolhouse is especially disdainful of the neglect of “shielders”, reminiscent of care house staff and casual carers. “These individuals stood between the weak and the virus however, for many of 2020, they got minimal recognition and acquired no assist.”

Britain spent a fortune on suppressing the virus and can nonetheless be servicing the debt incurred for generations to return, he provides. “In contrast, we spent nearly nothing on defending the weak in the neighborhood. We should always and will have invested in each suppression and safety. We successfully selected only one.”

And Woolhouse is emphatic that additional lockdowns aren’t the way in which to take care of future waves of Covid-19. “Lockdowns aren’t a public well being coverage. They signify a failure of public well being coverage,” he states.

As an alternative, the nation wants, in a short time, to not be stunned by new variants and to not reply each in an advert hoc vogue. “We should always agree a sliding scale of interventions and set off factors for implementing them. With omicron it all feels a bit chaotic. We want higher planning and preparation for when the subsequent variant arrives, as it absolutely will.”


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