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Damage control

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Whose rights will prevail in the COVID aftermath, asks Rob Verkerk.

With such incredibly rapid changes in circumstances, I’m a little apprehensive writing about the COVID phenomenon that started to engulf our lives in March or April, depending on where we were in the world.

But right now, my five top concerns about where things look to be headed are as follows:

1 The net social, economic and health impacts caused by national and international responses to the virus appear likely to do more damage to people’s quality of life than those caused directly from infection by the virus itself.

2 Governments will have established a modus operandi, either by using existing emergency powers or creating new ones, that will enable them to overrule individual human rights in favor of undemocratically determined “needs” of the state.

3 Governments will continue to uphold that little or nothing within the control of individuals allows them to enhance their immune system function and so reduce the risk and consequences of infection.

4 The widespread dissemination, by the media and other sources, of exaggerated and poor-quality data on cases and deaths is proving a useful device to maintain a state of fear in the population, making the public more amenable to state control.

5 Enforced medication or vaccination of individuals against their will is a distinct possibility when approved products are available.

The only assurance I get is that if there is a basis for all these concerns now, and there wasn’t just four short weeks ago, they could evaporate just as quickly.

The trouble is, as much as they look more like statements by a conspiracy theorist, rather than a conspiracy realist, each of them has a solid foundation for concern at the time of writing.

As for the impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, commentators are already saying the effect on small businesses will make the financial crisis of 2009 look like a minor blip. Stock markets around the world have been in freefall.

Mental health problems arising from loss of jobs, income and stress could persist for months or years and cannot be fixed with a simple pill.

Then there’s the likely upsurge in domestic violence and child abuse that police are already noting is a predictable side-effect of the widespread lockdowns. Not to mention the many thousands who would have had higher-quality care if the acute care system hadn’t been redirected so sharply to treat COVID-19.

Governments will no doubt find ways to justify their actions. If the virus doesn’t result in the mass carnage some projected, they will say it was radical action from governments, including social distancing and forcing people to stay home, that did the job.

They will probably be silent about the evidence from past pandemics, like the Spanish flu in the early twentieth century that killed 40 to 50 million people, showing that early social distancing slows peak death rates but doesn’t reduce the total number likely to die over time.

The strongest evidence for reducing infection and deaths remains good sanitation. So they were right to tell us to wash our hands and sneeze in our elbows, but we could have done that outside our homes too.

The US already has legal mechanisms it can use to put the needs of the state ahead of individuals during emergencies such as war. Some of these powers can be called upon if a state of emergency is declared.

Other countries have passed bespoke legislation, like the UK Coronavirus Act 2020, enacted by Parliament in just four days.

These unprecedented circumstances have given police and law enforcers powers that transgress human rights—and, in some cases, constitutional rights. Take the First Amendment of the US Constitution, for example, which grants the right to peaceful assembly.

When it comes to providing solutions, we’re seeing that most people’s immune systems and general resilience is sufficient to combat the disease.

A tiny number of clinical trials are looking at nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D and essential fatty acids known to enhance the immune system. But given the huge opportunity, pharma companies have invested massively in the hope of finding supposed “winners.”

If history repeats itself as it so often does, regardless of results, one or more new-to-nature drugs, not nutrients, will become incorporated into mainstay treatment programs.

Once a vaccine has been created, this will likely be pushed hard as a panacea to protect against the disease.

We won’t know if emergency powers will be used to force-vaccinate the public, at least in some countries. It happened before in the US with smallpox, and it could easily happen again.

Many factors will influence the eventual outcome. Among them are time, the public’s level of paralysis (or otherwise) induced by fear of the new coronavirus, the unfolding biology and ecology of the virus, and the purported effectiveness and safety of any treatments or vaccines that are developed.

That means a lot of uncertainty, but what’s almost a given, irrespective of what else happens, is that if we’re to maintain freedom of choice in healthcare for our and the next generation, we’re going to have to fight for it—again.

What do you think? Start a conversation over on the... WDDTY Community

Article Topics: immune system
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