DR JOHN LEE: The effects of lockdowns are catastrophic

DR JOHN LEE: My darkest predictions have come true… the effects of Covid lockdowns are catastrophic

One year on from the start of the first lockdown, the brutal price of this drastic policy is all too obvious. Amid battered public finances, rising unemployment and widespread business failures, entire sectors of the economy have been devastated.

At the same time, the quality of life for most of the population has been profoundly diminished, just as education from primary to degree level has been undermined and non-Covid healthcare disrupted.

Covid-dominated Britain is a bleak unnatural land where all our ordinary freedoms are locked away.

The advocates of lockdown argue that this approach has been necessary to tackle the unique challenges of coronavirus.

But I believe that the heavy-handedness of these measures has been out of all proportion to the level of threat –and worse, they have also been ineffective, even counter-productive.

Throughout this long emergency, the supposed antidote has often been more harmful than the disease itself. The reality is that Covid represents little danger to the vast majority of people under the age of 60, yet our whole society has been upended by an exaggerated response. And the scars will last for many years.

In May last year, during the first lockdown, I wrote an essay in this paper which warned of the disastrous consequences of paralysing authoritarianism in the name of public ‘protection’.

On the basis of ‘a panic fuelled by dubious science’, I said, the British economy ‘has been placed in an artificially induced coma’, with much of the population ‘under effective house arrest’.

Given the potential scale of damage to the nation’s health and wealth, I described the Government’s stance as ‘reckless and irrational’. And that was before a further 10 months of crippling restrictions.

Today, as the Mail’s comprehensive, depressing analysis makes clear, my darkest predictions have been realised. From the arts to the retail sector, the impact of successive lockdowns has been catastrophic, wiping out more than £500million of economic output every day.

 The tale of misery created by officialdom, as set out in the Mail’s catalogue of wrecked businesses, record debts, worsening hardship and vanished dreams, might be justified if Covid had represented a truly lethal crisis for Britain, killing perhaps 10 per cent of the population and threatening the very fabric of society. But Covid is nothing like a menace on this scale. It is not a new Black Death or Spanish Flu, no matter how many doom-laden, personal stories are aired by broadcasters.

If Covid were a plague, it would be indiscriminate in its targets. Everyone would be at risk, including healthy children and young adults. But that is not the case. As with many infectious diseases, it is mainly the elderly and people with chronic health conditions who are at risk.

Indeed, the average age of Covid fatalities is over 82, higher than the UK’s average age of death from all causes. And among those who contract the disease, just two in 1,000 (or fewer) actually die.

As soon as they became apparent, such facts should have been part of the wider debate about our Covid response.

But unfortunately we live in a climate of scare-mongering and misinformation.

Only last week, the BBC, in a typically apocalyptic report, stated that – due to Covid – the UK death rate in 2020 was 7 per cent higher than in a normal year.

But, while every death is a tragedy for bereaved families, 7 per cent above average does not strike me as a particularly shocking figure, especially since some of those deaths were caused by lockdowns themselves.

Some point to the Covid death toll, now over 125,000 in Britain, which is almost double the number of British civilians who died in the Second World War.

But we should remember that this represents two winter peaks (a time of year when it is not unusual for tens of thousands of Britons to die from respiratory diseases). And that some of the total is due to the manner in which we record Covid deaths: there is a big difference between dying directly from Covid, and dying after testing positive for Covid within the last 28 days, where other illnesses may well be responsible. Notably, we have never recorded respiratory deaths this way before.

So, with a worse than wasted year, the authorities may have a vested interest in exaggerating the incidence and deadliness of the disease. Similarly, they may be keen to play up the effectiveness of their hugely crippling social distancing and shutdown measures, for which there is precious little hard scientific evidence.

One example is the decision to repeatedly close the hospitality trade in Britain, when studies show an individual is less likely to contract Covid in pubs than in supermarkets, which have remained fully open throughout the pandemic.

In fact, there is no authoritative research that reveals a clear correlation between the severity of lockdowns and the avoidance of viral peaks.

France and Italy both had tough lockdowns last year, yet are now gripped by third waves of infections. In contrast, some US states remained largely open without devastation.

What is certain is the damage caused by lockdowns on every front, including economic meltdown, poor mental health, the inhumane neglect of the elderly and dislocated family relationships.

The greatest paradox of our Covid obsession is that it has undermined other forms of healthcare by warping the priorities of the NHS.

Tragically, tens of thousands of serious conditions, including cancer, have gone undiagnosed, while treatments are being delayed, operations abandoned and screening programmes curtailed.

Some experts like to talk of ‘long Covid’ (which is a post-viral syndrome, as occurs with many other viruses), but far more worrying is the long-term social and economic impact of restrictions, especially for younger people, who have seen their education disrupted and their careers shattered.

Amid all the anguished propaganda that has underwritten state policy, there has been a severe lack of balanced, rational perspective. We cannot have a zero-Covid world, just as we cannot eliminate all risk from our lives. It is now time to move more quickly back to normality, and to courageously end this nightmare.

  • Dr John Lee is a former professor of pathology and NHS consultant pathologist

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