Of all the government’s confused, panicked and flip-flop responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, the introduction of a so-called “circuit breaker” lockout this week would be the worst yet.
Shutting down the country for two weeks will turn a dangerous situation into a disaster.
It is precisely the wrong thing to do, at exactly the wrong time.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors. I warned at the time that this policy would have a devastating long-term effect on general health care – especially mental health – and it saddens me deeply that I was right.
Six months ago, when the coronavirus took hold in Britain, the Prime Minister (pictured) imposed a draconian lockdown that forced people to stay indoors
What I hadn’t anticipated in March was how Covid-19 would be channeled through the lockdown to the very places that housed Britain’s most vulnerable people: our nursing homes.
Low-risk segments of the population – young and generally healthy people – were most protected from infection. The most vulnerable have been left behind and the results have been appallingly horrific.
A lockdown we were promised wouldn’t last more than a few weeks limping all summer long. We only really emerged this month, when schools reopened.
And what happened? Exactly what anyone could predict – the disease also returned. Of course he did, because he had never disappeared. It had circulated at a low level, waiting to resurface among a population without a degree of immunity. Today we are experiencing rising infection levels similar to what we saw in February, at the start of the crisis.
But here’s the terrible difference: it’s now late September and winter is coming. With winter comes the flu and pneumonia, and as any doctor knows, they are killers.
We cannot wait for a vaccine and we cannot hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with a circuit breaker short-circuit lockout is scientific nonsense (file image)
They are already settling down. Two weeks ago, according to the Office of National Statistics, 991 deaths were attributed to influenza and pneumonia, Covid-19 or both over a seven-day period.
Yet during the same period, ONS data showed only 78 official deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in the past month (although that doesn’t mean the virus caused all of the death).
These numbers show that flu and pneumonia are currently about ten times more deadly… and according to the ONS, flu season hasn’t even started yet.
Peak months are considered October to May, reaching the worst patch after Christmas. Britain doesn’t stop for the flu every year. In fact, we hardly talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t care – in seven of the past ten years the vaccine has been shown to be less than 50% effective.
The development of a reliable influenza vaccine relies on predicting which influenza strains are most likely to appear the following winter and therefore may be very off target, but this failure is hardly ever discussed in the media. This is certainly not the cause of the national panic.
Considering a nationwide lockdown to control Covid-19, when the flu and pneumonia are currently much more virulent, is sheer folly. The disastrous effects on general and mental health that we suffered over the summer will simply be made worse.
Britain doesn’t stop for the flu every year. In fact, we hardly talk about it. Some people have vaccines, others don’t care – in seven of the past ten years the vaccine has been shown to be less than 50% effective
And in two weeks, or whenever we turn off the “circuit breaker”, the coronavirus will reappear. This time, we will face its effects during flu season, when many more people will be compromised by the flu and let alone able to fight Covid-19.
The optimal time to deal with this new coronavirus has already passed. Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine in the near future, we should have strived for mass immunity among the healthy population.
If the majority of people who are at risk of not suffering from serious side effects could catch the infection and get over it safely, they would be much less likely to pass it on to vulnerable people during the winter.
This strategy bears the ugly name of collective immunity, a callous name for the most compassionate politics.
I am certainly not minimizing the severity of Covid-19. It is more contagious than the common flu and attacks the body in a variety of ways. It is a frightening disease. But we cannot fight it with fear.
Since there is little feasible chance of a safe and effective vaccine in the near future, we should have strived for mass immunity among the healthy population.
We also cannot fight it at the moment with a vaccine. There isn’t, and I have to admit I would be wary of any inoculation that hasn’t been thoroughly tested. I am keenly pro-vaccine and have made sure my child gets every injection. But before they can be deemed safe, all drugs need to be properly evaluated, and that takes time.
We must not rush the job just because it is politically expedient. And yet the government appears to be doing just that.
The only safe and humane response is to protect the most vulnerable and encourage the rest of the population to strengthen herd immunity.
We cannot wait for a vaccine and we cannot hide from the virus. Trying to eradicate an endemic disease with “circuit breaker” short-circuit locking is scientific nonsense.
Instead, we need to take care of those most at risk, blocking their jobs and paying their bills while they self-isolate.
No one should have to worry about losing their job or defaulting on their mortgage. The cost of this, while significant, would be minimal compared to the expense of the leave program.
And as long as they stay safe, we all need to go back to the real world and learn to live with the virus. It’s here and it’s not going away. Our best defense is collective immunity. Accept it and let’s get on with our lives.
Dr Hoenderkamp is an NHS general practitioner