All year we’ve asked ourselves the question: why did this happen? Pathogens are part of life now and always have been. For the better part of a century, social and economic outcomes from new viruses were ever less disruptive. Public health had a settled consensus that disease is something to mitigate through doctor-patient relationships. Taking away people’s rights was out of the question. The last time that was tried in very limited ways in 1918 demonstrated that coercion only distracts, divides, and delays. This is why lockdowns were not attempted for another hundred years. Wisely so.
In the severe pandemic of 1957-58, officials explicitly said: ‘‘[T]here is no practical advantage in the closing of schools or the curtailment of public gatherings as it relates to the spread of this disease.’’ It was the same in 1968-69, 2006, 2009, and 2012-13.
Then came 2020 and SARS-CoV-2. The 24-hour news cycle and social media kicked in. Shocking images from China – people dropping dead in streets, police dragging people out of their homes or otherwise sealing whole apartment units – were blasted onto cellphones the world over. Then a part of Italy seemed to erupt. To many, it felt like a plague, and a primitive disease panic took over political culture.
We know now that the US had sent a delegation to Beijing in mid-February 2020 to get lessons in how properly to control a pandemic, even though the information coming from the Chinese Communist Party has been unreliable at best; there simply is no evidence that their lockdowns in Wuhan were actually responsible for beating back the virus. Obviously so. No disease in history has been suppressed by reliance on brute force over intelligent mitigation.
It’s extremely telling that the lockdowners have stopped seriously arguing that the lockdowns worked.
Locking down for more than a couple of weeks was a mistake, staying locked down for a year is bordering on a crime. Or maybe not just bordering.
Let’s imagine an alternative scenario in which lockdowns actually did work on one pathogen. Would they be worth it? Public health, as Martin Kulldorff continues to explain, must consider not just one ailment but the whole well-being of the community, not just in the short run but the long run. Even if Covid-19 was controlled via coercion, was it worth it to wreck so many businesses, force missed cancer screenings, keep kids out of school for a year, shatter so many communities that depend on houses of worship, lock people in their homes, and hobble the ability to travel?
These are egregious actions, and contrary to all the policy practices we associate with free societies that respect human rights. So in one sense, the argument about whether lockdowns “work” – they do not – is beside the point. For the sake of social and economic functioning as well as human rights, disease mitigation must not be managed by political actors but rather medical professions, as AIER has been saying for a full year.
I don’t even trust the medical professions at this point, as they have been as politicized as the politicians.