“Lockdowns Aren’t a Public Health Policy. They Signify a Failure of Public Health Policy,” Says Leading Epidemiologist

Professor Mark Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, has a new book out, The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir, in which he blasts lockdowns as morally wrong and highly damaging. He writes:

We did serious harm to our children and young adults who were robbed of their education, jobs and normal existence, as well as suffering damage to their future prospects, while they were left to inherit a record-breaking mountain of public debt. All this to protect the NHS from a disease that is a far, far greater threat to the elderly, frail and infirm than to the young and healthy.

The Observer has run a feature on the book this morning.

There was a distinctive moment, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that neatly encapsulated the mistakes and confusion of Britain’s early efforts to tackle the disease, says Mark Woolhouse. At a No 10 briefing in March 2020, cabinet minister Michael Gove warned the virus did not discriminate. “Everyone is at risk,” he announced.

And nothing could be further from the truth, argues Professor Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases at Edinburgh University. “I am afraid Gove’s statement was simply not true,” he says. “In fact, this is a very discriminatory virus. Some people are much more at risk from it than others. People over 75 are an astonishing 10,000 times more at risk than those who are under 15.”

And it was this failure to understand the wide variations in individual responses to COVID-19 that led to Britain’s flawed responses to the disease’s appearance, he argues – errors that included the imposition of a long-lasting, national lockdown. This is a strategy that Woolhouse – one of the country’s leading epidemiologists – describes as morally wrong and highly damaging in his forthcoming book, The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir. …

“We were mesmerised by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded only in making a crisis even worse. In short, we panicked. This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public health approach and it got the opposite.”

Prof Woolhouse argues that largely voluntary behaviour changes, as in Sweden, would have been sufficient to limit the impact. But we instead went for an enforced lockdown, in part because because modern technology made it possible.

However, Prof Woolhouse criticises the Great Barrington Declaration, arguing it “would have led to an epidemic far larger than the one we eventually experienced in 2020”, and that it also “lacked a convincing plan for adequately protecting the more vulnerable members of society, the elderly and those who are immuno-compromised”.

Unfortunately, he still supports attempting to suppress the virus using masks, testing and other measures intended to make interactions ‘safe’. And while he is emphatic in opposing lockdowns – “Lockdowns aren’t a public health policy. They signify a failure of public health policy” – he is a proponent of responding to the next variant with a pre-prepared “sliding scale of interventions and trigger points for implementing them”.

In other words, he still supports ongoing extreme public health interventions that seriously impede people’s ability to live normally, run businesses, access healthcare and so on, he just doesn’t call them ‘lockdowns’. Presumably he is unfamiliar with the studies that show such interventions do little or nothing to suppress the virus.

Still, allies on some points aren’t always allies on others, and it’s good to have another eminent voice decrying lockdowns as “mad”, and even getting sympathetic coverage in the Observer. A sign of things to come, perhaps.

Worth reading in full.

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