Why Lockdowns Work

by Raúl Ilargi Meijer


Steve Schapiro Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) with mini gloves, Louisville, KY 1963
 

 

There was another comment at the Automatic Earth yesterday questioning the function and wisdom of various lockdowns. I thought I’d explain this in more detail.

 

Ilargi if you or anyone else could explain what the exit strategy is from a lockdown I’d be interested in hearing it. As it is, this lockdown I repeat is no different than financial QE – everyone comes out weaker than they were before treatment. Financial QE covers up her problem just like lockdown does, but makes it worse in the long run. The only exit strategy I can see is to keep lockdown until a vaccine or effective treatment, neither of which are on the horizon.


If you are arguing that even healthy economies can survive indefinite closure, with intermittent re-openings I don’t know what to tell you. The suggestion is made that Sweden has a huge vested interest in understating fatalities. It is also certainly true that the rest of the world has an even greater vested interest in criticizing the Swedish approach because it demonstrates how useless the total lockdowns are. BTW the reported differences in fatalities between Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia are not statistically significant. Playing with numbers and not understanding how things may not be as they seem.

 

First, let’s re-establish that no lockdown would have been needed if and when politicians and scientists had done what’s in their job descriptions. That does not mean that no lockdown was called for once they did fail. Indeed, it’s the failure to act at the very beginning, say January 31, when the WHO sent out its first warning, that made lockdowns inevitable.

I don’t say that to exonerate the WHO in any way, because it subsequently, for weeks on end, kowtowed to China’s refusal to allow its teams entry into the country, and followed that up by waiting and hesitating another full 6(!) weeks, until March 11, to declare a pandemic.

Second, a lockdown and the way it’s executed are not the same thing. The decisions to lock down their societies may be the only thing(s) the Little Manager politicians have gotten right, but they still did get it right. And sorry, but you cannot use their ginormous failures made both before and during the lockdowns, to argue that the lockdowns themselves are a failure. These are separate issues, don’t let’s get them mixed up.

Lockdowns in and of themselves, when properly executed, cannot NOT work, simply because of the way viruses spread. Yes, we need to know exactly how they do, but not knowing this in the present case is exactly why we need a lockdown, why we need to keep people, who are all potential hosts AND spreaders, away from each other. Until we know precisely how the virus spreads and/or until we know that the people involved are not virus carriers.

Terms such as “indefinite closure” don’t come from me, so please have the courtesy not to suggest I want one. Questioning the principle of a lockdown is not terribly helpful or smart, and neither is suggesting that Sweden is doing well. If only because such questions and suggestions, if you follow their “logic”, seek to deny the very way viruses spread, if not the existence of a virus in the first place.

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Which is one of the few things we do know about COVID19: we know it exists and we know it spreads. We may get distances – between people- and timing – of various stages of infection- wrong, but the principle stands.

 

The lockdown is useful, make that inevitable, because it prevents further spread of a deadly virus from one host to another. Our ancestors understood this well before they even knew what viruses were, and I don’t understand why we would today no longer possess that wisdom.

The knowledge we have gained since times of old also allows us to understand that if a virus cannot spread to a new host for an x amount of time, it will die off. Which may sound a tad curious because science does not consider viruses to be microbes or “living organisms”, but that’s not really the issue at hand.

However, the NOT spreading will have to happen in as many instances as you have potential hosts, i.e. infected people, to make it work at a societal level, obviously. And that’s why lockdowns are inevitable: it’s all about numbers.

The “good news” is that the very reason lockdowns are useful already signifies that lockdowns don’t have to last until there is a “vaccine or effective treatment”; no “indefinite closure” is needed. You don’t necessarily have to eradicate a virus to inhibit it from jumping from host to host; you can also put distance and other barriers between (potential) hosts.

And there’s more good “news”. I think it was Nassim Taleb who said a while back that the answer to people saying a lockdown is a bad thing because it also isolates healthy people is: we need a lockdown precisely because we don’t know who is healthy or not.

If we do know who is healthy, however, we don’t need a lockdown. Ergo: testing, testing, testing. Certainly in the beginning, we must test people every 24 hours or so, test them for the virus. test them for antibodies, improve our tests, add more tests, test still more, we can all fill in the rest. And no, that is not an indefinite thing either. Testing will tell us to a much higher degree than we know today, when and where to distance people from each other.

Someone who has tested negative every 24 hours for days or weeks on end can be treated differently from someone who has not. And such a person will be, certainly initially, more careful in interacting with people. Take it from there, and you will in the end actually be rid of the virus, because it will not find enough new potential hosts.

That also means you don’t absolutely need a vaccine. Which is a good thing, because no coronavirus vaccine has ever been “discovered”, and because we have no idea what it would contain. Whenever I hear grand theories about grand bad plans elites or whoever are supposed to have with the virus, I first think: what would the virus need to propagate?

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And I always come back to the same answer: it only needs our continuing incompetence: other than lockdowns and face masks, we have given it all the space and opportunity it has needed. It doesn’t need any help from 5G radiation or glyphosate (though both should be subject(ed) to the precautionary principle), or anything people come up with in the extra time their lockdown allows for. All it needs is for us to continue doing what we have: not test.

And opening up our societies again without mass testing, of course, will be the biggest gift we can offer it. This doesn’t mean I deny the possible existence of some plan, or that I want to claim to have knowledge of where the virus originated. It only means that from where I’m sitting, the virus doesn’t need any assistance to do what it has done so far, not that it may or may not have gotten any. Still, door A is factual, and door B is purely hypothetical. And we don’t have seas of time to debate this, we have lives to save.

 

It’s early May, and there no longer are any excuses for anyone in the western world not wearing face coverings in public, and neither are there excuses for countries lacking the capacity to test their citizens appropriately. Still, in most countries, we are nowhere near that capacity. That is inexcusable. Social distancing is not.

What shuts down societies today is not the virus, not the lockdowns, but the failure to adhere to basic principles with which to approach all potentially epidemic microbes or viruses. The failure to be properly prepared -at all times-, because some thirteen-a-dozen politician elected in a popularity contest considers it too expensive, or too much work. Even if warnings about a next epidemic had been sounded for many years.

The exit strategy is testing while Big Pharma looks for a vaccine. Good thing we don’t have to wait for the latter, because, yes, that would risk an indefinite closure. Testing will get us out once our “leaders” resolve to make it a priority. They should all be voted out of office for not having done that yet, and take their scientific advisers with them. And that’s after we may or may not forgive them for their initial failures.

We may need to overhaul a whole bunch of things to make sure no such perfectly preventable failures happen ever again. But you know how people are. And anyway, we’re in a bit of a bind at the moment.

It’s been 125 days since that first WHO warning, and there are still even many rich countries that can’t manage to test their medical and care workers, let alone the rest of their people.

And you want to argue that the problem here is lockdowns?