Not in a million years did I ever think freedoms so hard won over the last century would be lost in a matter of months. Even more odd is that the trigger is a viral pathogen that for the vast majority of people causes few if any symptoms.
That’s not meant to minimize the fact that around 5 percent of those infected by the virus suffer serious respiratory disease that appears to be on par with flu or pneumonia, which can be fatal in those least able to mount an appropriate immune response.
I also value health, yet, like many others, I have no concern about the virus’ direct impact on my health or that of my loved ones, friends and colleagues.
That’s because you either have health or you don’t. If you don’t, especially if your loss of health affects your immune, pulmonary, respiratory, cardiovascular or metabolic system, you’ll be vulnerable not just to Covid-19 but also many other known respiratory pathogens that we’ve never shut down societies for.
If your health across these bodily systems is good, a much bigger threat to you—to all of us—is the gamut of human responses to the virus. The central impact of these actions is on businesses and economies, which provide the livelihoods that allow societies to function.
Critically, there is a tight and well-proven correlation between socioeconomic status and health, so it’s remarkable that there has been such broad acceptance of national lockdowns, furlough schemes and school closures when these can have devastating impacts on socioeconomic status and opportunity.
The disproportionate effect of these measures on those who have less to begin with will serve to undo decades of work to narrow socioeconomic inequalities. Because of the intimate link between socioeconomics and health, it’s disturbing to consider the impact this will inevitably have on health—the full extent of which will likely only become clear in the years ahead.
Everything we know about respiratory viruses says you can’t run away from them. The more you hide, the more you risk the prospect of second waves and more, drawn-out pain.
The longer you prevent societies from returning to their normal business of providing livelihoods for their populations, the more you extend the indirect impacts of societal dysfunction. Adding to this is the loss of democratic process that occurs during times of emergency—something the World Health Organization triggered when it declared a pandemic in March.
More and more people are seeing years of hard work dissolve in front of their eyes. They have no capacity to raise their concerns with their elected representatives because they have no traction, given the controls are all in the hands of executive authorities. Authoritarian powers have become the order of the day.
History tells us that people don’t stand for this indefinitely. They revolt. Representative democracy crumbles because the elected governments have been found not to act in the interests of a significant group of their constituents. Both socioeconomic and health inequalities would widen even further until the wounds that drove society apart can be healed.
So what would it take to try to avert this kind of potential catastrophe? It’s something many of us have given a lot of thought to over the past few months. The shortlist—inevitably controversial if you’ve bought into government narratives—looks something like this:
1) Governments, health authorities and media should stop engendering fear of the virus and help people understand its impacts in the context of other respiratory diseases.
2) Restore democratic process so the people’s concerns can be heard through elected representatives and executive authorities.
3) Restore the normal function of society as far as possible by encouraging healthy people to resume normal activities.
4) Abolish government-mandated social distancing and other policies that serve to delay transmission among healthy people so naturally acquired immunity is raised more quickly.
5) Abolish the use of masks and other face coverings in public settings, as there is no scientific basis for their use and they interfere with normal human interaction.
6) Focus on efforts to enhance the natural immunity of all populations through encouraging appropriate diet and lifestyle practices.
7) Shield vulnerable populations until there’s evidence the virulence of the virus has waned.
8) Stop national Covid-19 testing programs as they are wasteful of resources, inaccurate, and disproportionately maintain the public’s focus on a single pathogen to propagate continued fear and aversion to it.
As we said back in March: let’s adapt, not fight. The collateral damage caused by waging a war on this virus—a war we know can never be won—will inflict much greater damage than working to buffer its impact through its interaction with healthy immune systems, something that can only happen if societies resume normal, social function.
Whatever we do, there will be pain and loss of life to bear. But let’s not draw it out longer than necessary and risk so much more than just “catching” Covid-19.