In any national crisis, the best leaders project calm composure and competence to reassure a frightened public. In medical emergencies, doctors should reassure patients without hiding the real risks. A 2006 study led by Thomas Inglesby, Director of Johns Hopkins’ Bloom-berg School of Public Health, articulated this ‘overriding principle’: ‘communities faced with epidemics… respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.’
In the coronavirus pandemic, government policies formulated by health bureaucrats and relying on epidemiological modelling more than clinical data have fomented fear and panic. Edinburgh University’s emeritus professor of public health Raj Bhopal warns that ‘striking fear into the minds of the people or punishing them .. is not advocated in any public health strategy or international approaches to controlling the pandemic.’
Most governments and many scientists and doctors remain strongly opposed to the Great Barrington Declaration that demands a switch to a strategy of ‘focussed protection’ to shield the elderly and build population immunity by letting the healthy young get on with their normal lives. The mainstream media has done its best to ignore or criticise it. A major element of their opposition is ethical concerns about the seeming abandonment of the elderly to their Covid fate.
This flies in the face of overwhelming evidence of the harm done to the vulnerable by the unfocussed lockdown policies, a point brought home in a stark report from Amnesty International on the UK debacle which said that residents of care homes had been treated as ‘expendable’. Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera demands that ‘those responsible for such disastrous decisions are held accountable.’
Lest we forget, lockdowns are an extreme radical experiment that departed from the established WHO guidance on managing pandemics. Yet critics of draconian lockdowns, that still lack hard evidence of effectiveness, continue to be smeared as granny killers. One particular Yorkshire Granny you can see on YouTube (https://youtu.be/fxSfSDuy4AM) is someone I could instantly propose to, were I not happily married already, (although the Speccie’s James Allan tells me I’d face stiff competition).
‘I’ve not got all that many years left in me, and I’m not going to be fastened in a house,’ she declares defiantly, before making more common sense on the dangers and cost to future generations of lockdown than any political leader.
Does the name Jamlo Makdam ring any bells? No? Let me tell you her heart-breaking story. Six months on, it haunts me yet. It’s a proxy for so much that ails India, including child labour, no social safety net and moral apathy towards the most marginalised and vulnerable communities in the country.
Jamlo was a 12-year old girl working interstate in Karnataka’s fields when, with no preparation to manage and ameliorate the harsh consequences, PM Narendra Modi imposed a harsh lockdown on 25 March. When the lockdown was extended on 16 April, Jamlo joined a group who planned to walk the 100km to their home state of Chattisgarh. To hide from the extortion-police, they trekked through thick forests and over hills. Injured, Jamlo was carried part of the way by grownups but on 18 April, fatigue, hunger and dehydration claimed her life just 14km from home. She had worked 9-10 hour shifts every day for eight weeks at the daily wage of INR200 ($3.80) and saved INR13,500 ($256) that was found in her bag.
In the early hours of 8 May, another sixteen interstate migrant workers were walking home from Maharashtra to their home state of Madhya Pradesh when they were mowed down by a freight train while sleeping on railway tracks. Nasty, brutish and short: life of les miserables in poor countries. But hey, why should I care, my pension is protected against life on the high wire of the misery curve so long as I am Covid-safe.
Okay so that’s India but we are a wealthy Western country. I saw a photo recently of a care home resident in a wheelchair in the UK with a placard around her shoulders: ‘I’d rather die of Covid than loneliness.’ Who among us cannot empathise?
The Guardian reported on 20 October some of their own scientific advisers warned the UK government that children and youth were at risk of becoming a ‘lost generation’ but their concerns were ‘brushed aside’. According to Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, ‘we not only took away the protective net we throw around our children by closing schools and redeploying the children’s health workforce, but then we mortgaged off their futures for the current reality.’ Professor Chris Bonell of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added, ‘There will be a negative long-term mental health, economic, and social legacy of the pandemic and the government’s response on all young people… These adversities will be played out along their whole life courses: scarring like this doesn’t just wash out – it’s permanent.’
In a major expose on 20 October, the Daily Mail audited 130 studies to reveal that an extra 25,000 people had died at home in the UK during the pandemic because they didn’t get to hospital, cancer deaths had risen by 30 per cent, organ transplant operations had fallen by two-thirds while those dying on waiting lists had doubled, treatment for strokes had plummeted by 45 per cent, excess deaths from heart diseases topped 2,000, 50,000 surgeries for children had been postponed, and calls to child abuse helplines had rocketed. But, we must not lose sight of the good news: an untold number of people have been saved from death by Covid.
Okay, so that’s the rotten state of the UK but this is Australia. On 27 August, a Ballina mum expecting twins needed urgent emergency surgery. Queensland health officials took 16 hours to approve her exemption so she could fly from Brisbane to Sydney. Tragically, one twin died after becoming anaemic during surgery.
Just this month, four newborn babies were unable to be flown for emergency lifesaving cardiac surgery to Melbourne from Adelaide – whose hospitals lack the capacity to treat those conditions – because of Victoria’s stage four lockdown restrictions. All four died.
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