The Prevailing Narrative

There is a prevailing coronavirus narrative. Society is being told that staying home is a price worth paying for slowing the spread of the virus. On the face of it, this seems like sensible advice: according to one influential (although perhaps flawed1) computer model, in an unmitigated outbreak 40 million people could die globally. Despite all the astronomical figures, there is some dissent of opinion:

“Lockdown is going to bankrupt all of us and our descendants and is unlikely at this point to slow or halt viral circulation as the genie is out of the bottle. What the current situation boils down to is this: is economic meltdown worth paying to halt or delay what is already among us?”

Questions like the above2 are hard to come by. Yet, Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan, Professors at the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, are not the only people questioning the status quo. In another recent analysis, Professor Nathan Grills of the University of Melbourne, asks3:

“Could ongoing COVID-19 ‘lockdowns’ in India risk more harm than the pandemic itself given a population already facing major poverty and health challenges?”

Then there is Professor Johan Giesecke explaining the rationale4 behind Sweden’s markedly different approach5:

“I think what we’re seeing is a tsunami of usually quite mild disease, which is sweeping over Europe. And some countries do this, and some countries do that, and some countries don’t do that. And in the end, there will be little difference… most people who get it will never even notice they were infected.”

These opinions might be wrong. They should be heard nonetheless. It wouldn’t be the first time that the prevailing narrative in science turns out to be wrong. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, who is credited as the first advocate of hand-washing as a means of preventing the spread of germs was ridiculed by a Hungarian medical community that found it inconceivable that personal hygiene could imperil patients.

The damage of total lockdowns6 might turn out to be the most under-appreciated aspect of this whole crisis. The economic cost keeps increasing with every passing day, and “at some point, irreversible, non-linear economic damage sets in”. 7 It would be shortsighted to think that the damage of lockdowns will be purely economic and without public health ramifications. 8

Two things seem clear. First, the damage is done already, even though it might take years before the full toll of lockdowns takes shape.

Secondly, if lockdowns are lifted in the next few months two things will hold: we won’t have a vaccine9, and the vast majority of people won’t have been infected yet10. If governments haven’t significantly increased hospital capacity by then, people will start questioning the narrative. They would rightly ask: what has the lockdown achieved?